D.G. Valdron’s The Mermaid’s Tale merges familiar story elements like classical fantasy races and murder mystery plots and infuses them with philosophy and sociology to create something uniquely its own. A graphic and horrifying story of purity and corruption, the novel walks the line of visual stimulation and gratuitous gore without faltering. The book embodies one of its strongest themes: it is greater than the sum of its parts.
The Mermaid’s Tale centers on a city just as beautiful as it is dark. As different races wage war, the resolution lies within their political gambits, where the cost and collateral come in the form of their humanity. Amidst the shadows are the mermaids, the epitome of everything precious, innocent, and sacred. When one is brutally murdered, the Elders summon the most damned and lowly of all beasts to hunt the killer: an orc. Already fragile alliances fray as the city verges on the edge of collapse as all races must decide how well the end justifies the means.
As opposed to focusing on the characters or the plot, The Mermaid’s Tale is thematically driven. From the notion of justice to the idea of being more than one thing, Valdron layers the exploration of these complex concepts into his world-building. Brilliantly executed, these themes are not only timeless, but presented in such a way without leading the reader to a specific outcome. Instead, Valdron shows you his world through the protagonist’s eyes, allowing you to draw your own conclusions.
Along with the themes, the other strength of The Mermaid’s Tale lies in its world-building. Valdron’s creativity shines as he combines elements that, on the surface, appear weird and mismatched. Yet, somehow, he stitches it all together seamlessly. Each society is not only well-thought-out, but works hand-in-hand with the heavy social science presence. Though not apparent at the start, the world is equally brutal for everyone living in it regardless of race, class, or gender. The way Valdron slowly reveals this over the course of the novel feeds into a larger angle about how we often focus on the separate parts of something, especially at the initial onset, rather than its full capability: “Perhaps we could be more than what we are” (422).
Some readers might experience a challenge with The Mermaid’s Tale in the form of the point-of-view. Though the novel is written in first-person, a certain distance is established between the reader and the protagonist. The separation helps when in difficult moments, but comes at the cost of character attachment. In the same vein, the character relationships are secondary to the thematic elements and the world-building, rendering them as less fleshed-out than some readers might prefer. However, Valdron is intentional and purposeful with his choices. His approach to his characterizations becomes abundantly clear once the story’s finished.
From the brutal violence and bleak world to the exploration of such themes like truth and justice, The Mermaid’s Tale is the definition of a grimdark story. The novel’s true essence is primally raw and unflinchingly honest. Valdron forces you to take a hard look at human behavior and the definition of “the right thing,” pushing your convictions until they break: “Foolish Rughk, to be the only real thing in an unreal world? Do you think that is why the rest of the world hates you so much?” (283). A tale not only worth telling, but one that shouldn’t be missed.