4 Stars: “Mervidia” by J. K. Barber

Posted: 27th September 2014 by Jason Kristopher in Books
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From Amazon.com:

Mervidia (cover)Deep in the ocean’s darkness live the Merwin, sinister sea creatures who have never seen the light of the sun. As the city of Mervidia flourishes, its inhabitants scheme and grasp for power. Queen Beryl, the last of the royal bloodline, has been brutally assassinated. The High Houses scramble to seize Mervidia’s crown, posturing for rank and the possibility of having a race other than the ethyrie wear the Fangs for the first time in Merwin history. The blood of a nation is spilt, turning kin on kin and house upon house, all in hopes of sitting on the throne and ruling the Deeps.


If you’re my age, or maybe a bit younger, that word conjures up images of red hair, mean octopi, vocal Jamaican-accented crabs and some songs you will never get out of your head. Ever.

Let me help you with this: read Mervidia. You will never look at mermaids merwin the same way again. This is a tale not for the faint of heart, nor for those who like a little light reading before bedtime. What it will do is completely change the way you think of deep water – or should I say The Deeps? – and what lies beneath us.

Mervidia is the tale of a time of upheaval in the underwater city by the same name, a hodgepodge collection of seven different races of merfolk, all managing to survive in the crushing depths of the ocean through manipulation, coercion, deception, and more than a little backstabbing, both figurative and literal. In other words, this ain’t no Disney movie.

The book grabbed me from the very beginning, when I saw the amazing cover. The story itself opens with a bang, or rather, a slice, with the assassination of Queen Beryl, of the beautiful and angelic ethyrie race, and takes us on a roller-coaster ride until the very last page. It’s a complex story, with many characters, a rich, diverse political and social structure, and well thought-out characters. Characters who, one is sure, could provide entire additional volumes of backstory, sidestory, and… well, you get the idea. The tight grip on the reader continues throughout, with twists and turns coming at you hard and fast around every corner. Literally until the last pages, which completely blew me away (more on that later).

It’s merfolk, people. I’ve read, quite literally, thousands of books and stories in virtually every genre, and only a paltry handful have even included merfolk of some kind. How could you not want to read a whole book about them? These crafty and wily creatures don’t disappoint, either, with political machinations aplenty for readers who like that sort of thing, and enough action to keep those who prefer more fast-paced books interested. There are a couple slowish spots in the book where the authors could’ve used some quicker pacing, and I did find myself reading some chapters more quickly than others to get back to the characters who interested me more. This is natural, I think, with a book this complex, so I don’t count that as a bad thing. Indeed, I’d say it’s a good facet of this work: there’s something for everyone. I waited quite some time to read this book, being as patient as I could until it was released, and it did not disappoint.

So why not 5 stars? I can’t answer that fully without spoilers, so suffice to say that there is at least one sideplot that’s not wrapped up by the end, and that bugs me. Additionally, I felt that the last quarter of the book read much faster than the previous parts, and not in a good way. It wasn’t rushed, because everything happened with good pacing, but the pacing was so much faster than the rest of the book that it felt off, almost as though the authors were trying come in under a specific word count. Also, and though I have to grudgingly admit it fit with the rest of the story and made sense when it comes to the way things are done in Mervidia, I didn’t like the ending at all. I can understand from an author’s perspective why they would make that choice, and it does make sense in the grand scheme, but I would probably have worked to find a different way to do it. That’s purely a personal choice, though, and should in no way detract anyone from wanting to read this wonderful book.

Summary: I thoroughly enjoyed this book, despite my normal reticence for politically-oriented stories. Surprises in spades, fascinating and mesmerizing worldbuilding, and the clear and precise vision of the story the authors obviously had make this an excellent book for anyone looking for a very different sort of fantasy novel. Highly recommended.

Note: I’ve also read and reviewed two other titles by these authors, Fallen by Katie Barber, and Spellbound, the first in the Chronicles of Aronshae trilogy, by the duo.

Jay and Katie Barber combine their names to write under pen name, J.K. Barber. The couple lives in Roswell, GA with their children, Maya and Gabe, as well as their four rescue cats. Jay graduated from The University of Georgia with a BA in English Literature, and Katie graduated from The University of Colorado at Boulder with a BA in English Creative Writing. They combine their educations, writing together as a co-author team for projects such as the Chronicles of Aronshae and Mervidia.

In addition to their collaborative work, they also have individual titles: Hidden Path, a prequel to their trilogy written by Jay, and Fallen, a post-apocalyptic angel novel written by Katie. The Barbers enjoy being parents, table top gaming, reading, mixed martial arts, riding motorcycles, and PC gaming.

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