Book Reviews

Review: “Deep Blue,” Jennifer Donnelly

April 6, 2016

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: “Deep Blue,” Jennifer DonnellyDeep Blueby Jennifer Donnelly
Series: Waterfire Saga #1
Published by Disney Hyperion on May, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Mermaids / Selkies
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Book Depository | Bookworld | Booktopia

Deep in the ocean, in a world not so different from our own, live the merpeople. Their communities are spread throughout the oceans, seas, and freshwaters all over the globe.

When Serafina, a mermaid of the Mediterranean Sea, awakens on the morning of her betrothal, her biggest worry should be winning the love of handsome Prince Mahdi. And yet Sera finds herself haunted by strange dreams that foretell the return of an ancient evil.

Her dark premonitions are confirmed when an assassin's arrow poisons Sera's mother.

Now, Serafina must embark on a quest to find the assassin's master and prevent a war between the Mer nations. Led only by her shadowy dreams, Sera searches for five other mermaid heroines who are scattered across the six seas. Together, they will form an unbreakable bond of sisterhood and uncover a conspiracy that threatens their world's very existence.

Deep Blue marks the first book in the ‘Waterfire Saga’. Though I had a few problems getting into the story, I was able to immensely enjoy the world both Disney and Jennifer Donnelly have endeavoured to create. Rich in fantasy and originality, this book is one of the better mermaid reads on offer.

 “Whatever you do or dream you can do—begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.”

I was so torn on what to rate Deep Blue. On one hand I immensely enjoyed the evolution of the characters and the world in which was created within the ‘Waterfire Saga’ – but on the other hand I found myself almost overwhelmed by the amount of information and lore we were saddled with. The first and second halves of the book are almost unrecognisable as one, which also impeded on my rating.

For some reason, the fact that Jennifer Donnelly didn’t come up with the ideas and world within Deep Blue rubs me the wrong way. I realise that this method (publishers concocting a story and finding an author to write it) isn’t new, but it just doesn’t sit well with me. From my understanding, I gather that this book was devised by Disney and they hand-picked Jennifer Donnelly to write it for them, gifting her with a tome of ‘lore’ – a ‘Waterfire Saga Bible’ if you will – and then basically let her run wild with it.

That being said, I don’t think an author other than Jennifer Donnelly would have been able to make a story as intricate and character-packed as this as enjoyable as it actually was. Although I was completely overwhelmed while reading the first few chapters, something made me press on.

 “We never know who we are… until we’re tested”

From the get-go we are bombarded – ‘info-dumped’ – with descriptions, slang and other mermaid-paraphernalia and expected to understand what it all means. I felt that the descriptions were entirely too heavy for such simple sequences (such as our heroine Serafina lounging on her sea anemone bed, etc.) but as I got used to the book, things sat a little better.

Our main character Serafina was likeable, and her transformation from the start to the end of the first ‘Waterfire Saga’ chapter was so tremendous. Her best friend Neela was likeable enough, too, but I didn’t fall in love with her or any of the other characters especially. This brings me to one of my main problems with this book – the overload of characters.

Characters are tossed around here, there and everywhere. While it certainly adds colour to Deep Blue, it also draws attention away from what really matters. Early on we are introduced to Serafina’s betrothed and Neela’s brother, and you get the impression that they’re going to be sticking around. The same goes for Serafina’s ladies maids, who she has a love/hate relationship with. I could be wrong – as this is only the first book in a four-book series – but these characters were built up so much only to be dropped from the story completely a few chapters later.

We’re then introduced to slew after slew of characters; Blue and the gang, the sea witches, Lana the crazy catfish lady… and then the biggest cast of all, the other four chosen mermaids. I would have liked our introductions to these characters (particularly the other four girls) to be more staggered as to get to know them better, but we can’t have everything.

There is also barely a glimmer of a romance in this story, and for once I’m not sad about that. There’s some back-story and brief longing around Sera and her betrothed and some slight flirting between her and Blu, but that’s it. Deep Blue manages to tell a story about some six or more independent female mermaids who don’t need a guy to pine over in order to succeed. If you’re looking for a mermaid romance, this book may not be the one for you.

“Help the others believe, Serafina. Help Ling believe she can break through the silences. Help Neela believe her greatest power comes from within, not without. Help Becca believe the warmest fire is the one that’s shared. Help Ava believe the gods did know what they were doing. That’s what a leader does—she inspires other to believe in themselves.”

What it does offer is some great fantasy.

Deep Blue is so plot-driven, it’s intense. There’s no dallying about for Sera and Neela. Action scene after action scene is thrust upon us, so much so that we as readers are wondering when the two princesses are ever going to catch a break!

I also really enjoyed the mythology and the whole ‘Atlantis’ spin on the mermaid roots. As the story progresses we get to know more about Sera’s family and its origins and their ties to the first rulers of Atlantis.

Above everything, Jennifer Donnelly has managed to weave a really good story around what Disney’s given her as a base. Although the characters appear in hordes, I feel they all offer something to the story in some small way. I am also able to envision Sera’s world quite vividly and appreciate the detail in which even the underwater languages have been crafted. The mermaids aren’t your usual run of the mill mermaids, either. There are ‘mermaids’ with crab bodies, octopus tentacles and the list goes on.

So much thought has gone into this series and you can’t help but appreciate it.

Is it the next huge thing? I don’t think so. But it’s really enjoyable and one of the better mermaid books I’ve read lately. You can’t help but think Disney’s overreaching itself with the huge promotional push behind this series, but that doesn’t matter. At least it’s worthy of pushing unlike some of the other reads I’ve seen plastered everywhere.

I’ll be picking up the next book in the series when it come around, as I’m eager to see how the girls journey to find the talismans progresses.

About Jennifer Donnelly

Jennifer Donnelly grew up in New York State, in Lewis and Westchester counties, and attended the University of Rochester where she majored in English Literature and European History. Jennifer lives in New York's Hudson Valley with her husband, daughter, and three rescue dogs.


  • Reply Kelly @ Diva Booknerd April 7, 2014 at 11:34 am

    I haven’t heard of any other book that was dreamt up by the publisher and then sought an author to write it. I can’t imagine their heart would really be in it, more just a way to earn money. It does look pretty good though, all the descriptions and information bombarded at readers is a little off putting, there’s nothing worse than picking up a fantasy and and getting a history lesson. Awesome review Brittany :)
    Kelly @ Diva Booknerd recently posted…Stacking The Shelves and Weekly Wrap #016My Profile

  • Reply Marg April 6, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    I didn’t realise this was a write to order book. I am still excited to read it because I have loved so many of Donnelly’s other books!
    Marg recently posted…Sunday Salon: March Reading ReflectionsMy Profile

  • Reply Joy @ Thoughts By J April 6, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    I definitely haven’t had luck with mermaid books at all, but I love an action filled novel surrounded by mythology. I didn’t realise that publishers option authors to write certain stories at all. Now I’m wondering how many of the books I’ve read were actually ideas from the authors…

    Wonderful review Brittany, I’m keen to check this book out now. :)
    Joy @ Thoughts By J recently posted…Book Excerpt + Giveaway: Getting By (A Knight’s Tale #1) by Claudia Y. BurgoaMy Profile

  • Reply Kate @ Fictional Thoughts April 6, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    The blog looks so different to last time I was here! I like it :)

    Sounds difficult to get into. I’m not a fan of the info-dump (that’s usually where I’ll put the book aside and forget about it for a year or so) but I love the idea of independent characters without romance hanging over their heads.

    Great review :)
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