By Casey Wilson
Fathomless is the third book in Jackson Pearce’s fairy tale series. The series began with Sisters Red, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, and continued with Sweetly, a take on Hansel and Gretel. Now it concludes with her spin on The Little Mermaid – a spin that hews much closer to Hans Christian Anderson than Disney, thankfully. (Mild spoilers ahead!)
Like the previous two books, Fathomless is told from alternating perspectives. The first is Lo, a mermaid – or mermaid-like creature, at least – who knows she has a past on the land but who has given herself over to the water, waiting for the “angels” to come take her into the sky. Then there is Naida, the girl who Lo used to be who wants nothing more than to return to the life that was taken from her when she was turned into the mermaid. Lo and Naida battle for precedence over the body they share throughout the novel, sometimes switching control mid-sentence.
The third perspective is Celia, one of a set of triplets with special powers. Her two sisters can, with a single touch, see someone’s present and future, respectively, while Celia can see someone’s past. She finds her power to be the least useful and most horrifying, as she knows secrets she doesn’t want to know. But when she meets Naida as they work together to rescue a drowning boy named Jude, she begins to realize that her powers can be used to help Naida remember who she used to be.
As one can imagine, this opens the novel up to complicated questions of identity and agency: are we our present or our past? Can a person be truly independent when she shares so much (looks and powers, in Celia’s case, a body, in Lo and Naida’s) with someone else? Who can you trust, when you can’t trust yourself? For the most part, Pearce takes the time to address all of these questions, allowing for small moments of insight that offer food for thought, if not answers. The book itself clocks in at less than 300 pages, however, and I can’t help but wonder if she might not have had more room to explore and complicate these notions if the book had been longer. I felt particularly unsatisfied with the treatment of Celia’s relationship with her sisters as the novel wore on – it was ripe for complexity, but for me, at least, it never quite arrived there.
I can’t speak to Fathomless as a conclusion to the trilogy as a whole, at least not in detail, because it has been so long since I’ve read Sisters Red and Sweetly that I fear my doing so would be unfair to the series. But I will say that I appreciate the fact that the books can be read separately, if one chooses, because it ensures that each book has a story and a weight of its own. And I’ve also come to appreciate the choice Pearce made with the conclusion to Fathomless as it relates to the “bad guys” – although since I have no wish to give away the ending here, so I will say no more.
I probably, on the whole, enjoyed Sisters Red the most of the three books, but Fathomless is a good entry in the series and a strong contribution to the world of fairy tale retellings that we all now live it. Fathomless officially releases on September 4 (Amazon shipped pre-orders early), so you have time to catch up before it’s release, if you so choose!
Casey is a PhD student who will be teaching “Writing About the YA Bestseller” this fall.