Isobell thinks the sea just might be trying to kill her as she, her twin brother Jasper, and his dear friend Ian set out from London. Escaping from the expectations placed on her shoulders and most importantly her betrothed, Wicked Richard, Bell intends to hide herself among the servant class in Scotland. Found out by her employer almost immediately, Bell still finds herself living an infinitely more pleasant life in a laird’s castle. Songs, fairy tales, and enchanting plays (put on by Ian and Jasper, former actors) fill her days and nights just as much as her work does. And of course, there is the charming and handsome Laird Manteith, whom she serves.
What is The Mermaid and the Bear about?
This book is about Isobell, a noblewoman from London whose impending engagement drives her to escape with her brother and his best friend to Scotland. There, Isobell becomes employed at the castle of Laird Thomas Manteith as a kitchen maid, while her brother Jasper and his friend Ian are employed on the nearby farm. The three of them settle in nicely with the castle and farm staff, making friends and adapting to their new environment easily and happily. There’s much merriment upon the return of the Laird Manteith, though his first encounter with Isobell is fraught with fright and embarrassment. While bathing in a pool in the woods Isobell mistakes the Laird for a bear, and he mistakes her for a mermaid. The incident is met with mirth and interest by the rest of the castle and farm staff, though Isobell’s antagonistic roommate Agnes doesn’t seem to find Isobell’s budding relationship with the Laird quite as fun…
Genre: Fairy Tale
Though this book could easily be classified as historical fiction–it’s partially based on three real people–it definitely reads like a new fairy tale, from the ideal beginnings to the grim middle and the final, happy ending. A new, original fairy tale with less magic than one might expect, but also carrying a flavor of the realistic.
Tropes: Fast Wrap Up
Like traditional fairy tales, this book wraps up plotlines quickly. Events happen in mere moments, and wrap ups are often told through exposition. While I normally don’t enjoy this sort of thing, it was incorporated nicely into this story to emphasize that this is more a fairy tale than a traditional historical fiction novel. The writing style was consistent throughout, so the quick wrap ups felt natural and in form with the way the main character, Isobell, narrates.
Plot: A LOT more than expected
I won’t go into details because of spoilers, but suffice to say when I reached the halfway point of the novel and thought “this must be where it ends” I had no idea what the plot was going to do for the second half. The plot took darker, more intense turns and I was both absorbed and darkly surprised by what transpired for the characters I had grown to love. The climax may have been depressing, but luckily the story picked up that loving tone that I enjoyed so much in the first half by the end of the book.
I enjoyed the characters, and the romance, very much in this book. Isobell seems naive and entitled at first glance, but really she has a loving heart and powerful optimism. She sees the good in others until they prove themselves unworthy of it, and she never stops believing in those that deserve faith. I also enjoyed the characterization of Laird Manteith, who was more than just a love interest. It’s clear that he loved and valued all those in his service, and he was a good man who treated others with respect and kindness.
The condemnation of Agnes from the very beginning frustrated me, in part because it led to the downturns that the characters took in the climax. Agnes wasn’t the most pure of soul, sure, but when Isobell made genuine efforts with her there was a chance! They could have been friends, or at least not enemies, and Agnes didn’t have to be a tool in the horrible things that happened and ultimately meet her demise that way.
I did lose hope for a bit there reading the second half of the book. It was depressing, hard to read, and very much conflicted with the tone of the first half of the story. It was more historical fiction than fairy tale at that point, but ultimately the two parts do work together in creating an overall fairy tale, just one that turned out darker than I imagined it would be.
This was a short, sweet read (well except for the climax). I definitely think it’s more like a fairy tale, a new one, than historical fiction. The romance is adorable and genuine, and I enjoyed Isobell as a character. While the second half, with the action climax, was hard to read and jarring compared to what I was expecting it was sympathetically written and does work with the overall idea of crafting a new fairy tale with a different type of moral to the story to suit a modern audience. There were also some genuinely humorous lines that made me laugh out loud, unexpectedly!