by Sheila A. Nielson
Publication date: July 15th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
When sixteen-year-old Sadelyn Hanson washes up on the shores of Windwaithe Island, her beauty and the strange marks on her wrist make superstitious locals suspect she is a mermaid. Feigning amnesia, Sade hides a far worse secret: she was sailing to her own murder trial when she was thrown overboard by the real killer, the cunning and cruel Captain Westwood.
Sade’s quiet effort to rebuild her life on the island is threatened when she meets an actual young merman. Unable to speak his language, Sade still longs for the warm companionship he offers, despite the locals’ dire legends about merfolk and their dark magic. But her confused feelings for the impossible boy become the least of her problems when Captain Westwood’s ship docks at Windwaithe. With nowhere to escape, Sade must trust in the one person who doesn’t fear the merfolk. A woman who had dealings with them herself—years ago.
He must have taken my conversational tone as an invitation. With an amazing show of grace and agility, the merman pulled himself onto the rock beside me. Powerful arms and a muscular tail helped him emerge from the water with very little effort and settle his impressive form next to mine. I glanced around nervously, but we were completely alone—not a single boat sailed on the horizon. The muscles in my legs burned from the strain of trying to keep my crouched position, so I allowed myself to sink down beside him. The smell of rocks wet from the sea lingered heavy in the air around us. I shivered as the damp seeped into my skirts and petticoats giving me a slight chill. The young merman continued to stare at me without speaking. I began to wonder if there might be something wrong with his tongue.
He wore clothing similar to our first meeting, only this time his doublet was brown. Below that was the fish part of him. I stared down at his shimmering scales in astonishment I could not hide. His fin was huge. Curling and uncurling like the tail of a contented cat, it was a magnificent spectacle of iridescent rainbows floating on a golden sea. Occasionally he would dip the end of his fin into the waves for a moment before pulling it out again, allowing water to stream from its dazzling surface back into the sea. Realizing how long I’d been staring at his tail, I forced my eyes back to his face. That’s when I first noticed the thin gold circlet he wore about his forehead. Set into the center of it was a small red jewel.
Thinking of James, I pointed to the circlet, “Don’t tell me you’re nobility, too.” I rolled my eyes in mock distress.
He touched one hand to the gold band then shrugged dismissively. It was the kind of gesture any boy my own age might make. Something so ordinary done by such an extraordinary being made me laugh out loud. His features rippled momentarily with pleasure over the sound. As I watched, the most amazing thing happened. His dark, almost-black eyes shifted their color to a royal purple in the span of only a moment. I gasped in surprise.
“Your eyes. H-how did you do that?” I stammered.
He bent his head closer to mine—so close, I could feel the moist warmth of him radiating against my skin. Our noses almost touched. My heart fluttered like a panicked bird, but I could not move. A tantalizing scent drifted from him, like the fresh, spicy smell of far off lands. When he finally spoke to me his voice was like scintillating liquid. But the beautiful words and their meaning were beyond my comprehension.
“Wait,” I put my hands on his shoulders, forcing him gently to sit back a proper distance. He fell into silence, watching me with intent purple eyes. Releasing his shoulders, I continued. “The language you’re speaking—I’ve never heard it before.”
He bit the inside corner of his lip. Shaking his head, he gave a deep sigh. He didn’t understand me any better than I did him.
“That is a problem,” I said to myself.
Sssssadelyn, sang the silky soft voice.
I stumbled my way through shadow and moonlight. Heedless of everything but the sound of Araedyn’s whispers calling out to me from the edge of the sea, I hurried onward.
“Araedyn,” I cried urgently into the night. “I’m here!”
I don’t know how much time passed as I flew down toward the beach. When I finally felt the soft sand give way beneath my boots, and heard the roar of the ocean fill my ears, I knew I was almost there.
I pelted down into the water, all my fear of the ocean swallowed up for the moment in the wild delight of once again seeing the young merman I’d come to love.
The ocean’s waves swept over my shoes and ankles, splashing my face and body with its salted ice spray. I stopped dead in my tracks as a dark silhouette rose up out of the inky black waves to greet me.
Bright moonlight shone down, illuminating the figure’s still glistening features from above. It was a face as beautiful and cold as green emeralds shimmering within the settings of a priceless necklace.
I recoiled in horror, trying to back quickly away from her and make my escape.
She spoke the word with calm command. The power of her irresistible voice instantly made the muscles in my legs go weak beneath me. Before I knew what was happening, I’d crashed to my knees in the surf, gasping against the icy shock of the water. The welt along my wrist burned, rushing to fill my body with unnatural heat, fortifying me against the cold. I shuddered in response as the mermaid moved up the beach, using the strength of her arms and tail to pull herself up into the shallows on her stomach. I silently returned her unfaltering gaze.
As she moved in closer to me, the marks upon my wrist turned scalding hot. I cried out clutching at my skin, digging against the pain with my nails. The mermaid stopped her advance and immediately drew back a bit, leveraging herself into a half-sitting position, with her tail trailing in the waves behind her.
Your newest book, Shadow in the Sea is a follow-up to the mermaid novel, Forbidden Sea, published by Scholastic Press. Do you have to read Forbidden Sea first in order to enjoy Shadow in the Sea?
Shadow in the Sea is more of a companion novel rather than a true sequel to Forbidden Sea. I knew this book would be the first time visiting Windwaithe Island for many readers—so I wrote Shadow in the Sea as a stand-alone. If readers decide they like Shadow in the Sea, they can always go back and read Forbidden Sea to find out what happened before.
Why mermaids? Or should I say, mermaids and mermen—since one of the main characters in Shadow in the Sea is a handsome merprince.
I was first introduced to Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairytale, The Little Mermaid, as a child. My family had an illustrated version of the story and I used to look at the pictures in it again and again. I hated the whole lose-the-guy-and-turn-into-sea-foam-ending—so I would imagine my own mermaid stories to go along with the pictures. Ones with much better endings.
After I became a children’s librarian, I noticed that many girls who came in asked for mermaid books. We didn’t have a lot of them so the kids left looking very disappointed. I thought to myself, Someone needs to write more mermaid stories. That’s when I realized that person could be me. When I finally got around to writing my mermaid stories, I found myself revisiting some of the things I’d first imagined about mermaids back in my elementary school days.
Do you think there are real mermaids out there in the ocean somewhere?
You would be surprised how often I get asked that question. I, myself, am a complete skeptic, though, nothing would make me happier than to be proven wrong. I will say this—while doing my research for Shadow in the Sea I discovered there are a lot of people who strongly believe in mermaids—both in present day and historically. In fact, the Orkney Islands have an extensive history when it comes to mermaid sightings. (Try Googling “Deerness Mermaid” sometime and see what you find!)
What part of Shadow in the Sea did you enjoy writing most?
The Sea Prince, Araedyn, was the most complicated (and enjoyable) character to write in Shadow in the Sea. Because he speaks only merlanguage, I had to find other ways to communicate his story and personality to the main character, and the reader. As an author, I know a great many private details about my characters. Some of this information can’t be fit into the final story. In the first book, Forbidden Sea, I didn’t have time to flesh out Prince Araedyn the way I wanted to. Shadow in the Sea finally gave me a chance to bring the mysterious merprince front and center, the way I’d been dying to from the start.
Are any of your characters based on real people?
An author writes what she knows, so bits and pieces of real people do sneak in here and there. However, there is only one character in Shadow in the Sea who is completely based on reality. Dartemore, the horse. My grandfather owned an animal just like him while I was growing up. He was a one man horse who adored my grandpa and hated everyone else. If he could have slept at the end of my grandfather’s bed like a dog, he would have. When grandpa rode the horse, he lifted up his feet and let his tail fly high. When I got on him he tried to kill me. Every. Single. Time.
Fictional characters often find themselves in situations they’re not sure they can get out of. Have you ever found yourself in a situation like that? What did you do?
I almost drowned when I was young. I was swimming in a lake all alone. (A really stupid thing to do!) I felt something swim into my legs under the water—either a good sized fish or a water snake—I ‘m not sure which. I panicked, started thrashing around, and quickly went under. I remember looking down through the water and realizing that I couldn’t see the bottom because it was so dark and deep. Luckily, I was able to calm down enough to stop flailing and float back up to the surface before it was too late. I’ve had a phobia of fish and deep water ever since. This made writing about merfolk who live fathoms beneath the surface of the ocean an interesting experience. There were times I had to take a break from writing because I would start to feel like I couldn’t breathe.
You are a children’s librarian as well as an author. Do you find this affects your writing in any way?
Children want to share their joy when it comes to reading. I’ve had the plots of far too many novels spoiled for me by eager young library patrons who just wanted to tell me everything about their favorite book. I don’t mind one bit. This has given me a unique understanding of what kids do and don’t like when reading a book. Sometimes, I find myself thinking, What would the kids at the library like to see happen in this chapter? then I write the scene accordingly. Kids love fun little details that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the book’s main plot. The game of Quiddich is a great example of this. In Shadow in the Sea, the Sea Prince has eyes that change color based on his emotions and moods. I recently had a young fan write me an email to ask if I could please make a list of every eye color and its corresponding emotion and send it to her as quickly as possible.
There is one other perk to being a librarian author. Kids will sometimes come to the reference desk and ask me for one of my own books—never realizing I’m the one who wrote it.
Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published?
A couple of years ago, I wrote a paranormal romance story about a haunted doll museum. It was much scarier and darker than anything else I’ve ever written. It was so creepy one member of my writer’s group decided they didn’t want to finish it. That book is one of my favorites despite the fact that it may never be published.
What would Sadelyn, Shadow in the Sea’s protagonist, think about you if she could meet you?
After everything I put her through in this story--she would probably refuse to even speak to me. Sade would forgive me in time, but then find some sneaky way to let me know she didn’t approve of my methods of entertaining readers at her expense.