Netgalley is so bad for me. I see something interesting and I grab it and then my to-read list (which by my calculations is at least 15 years worth of reading) is one book longer. I try--I have rules that I can only get books whose author I know, or that I had been actively waiting for. That lasts five minutes; I'm a sucker for a good blurb.
[Warning: severe overuse of parentheticals ahead.]
Ice Massacre, by Tiana Warner, had a great hook: mermaids can kill any sailor with their hypnotic charm, so the besieged island of Eriana Kwai. I'm not generally into mermaids, but Mira Grant's Rolling in the Deep was creepy and scary and I thought that mermaid massacres sounded like fun. (Because I'm sick.) (Also, I just realized that I never reviewed Rolling in the Deep. It's a great little horror novella; go read it.)
So even though the cover image for Ice Massacre has a mermaid pet peeve of mine on it (there's no reason for their tails to bend right where the knees would, and at the same angle; there are no legs in there IRL!), I dove in (ha, accidental mermaid pun!)
Meela lives on a small island off the coast of British Columbia. Eriana Kwai used to be a prosperous, independent place, before the mermaids came. But now, any ship near the island is attacked; they can't fish, or easily get supplies from shore, and people are hungry.
Every year, a new class of warriors emerges from training and goes off to fight the mermaids. Some years they slaughter enough to give them a few months of safe fishing, but for the last few years, no one has returned home, and things are getting dire. Meela lost her brother to the Massacre when she was a child. But now the island has a new plan: train girls, who are immune to mermaid hypnosis.
But Meela has a secret; as a child, she had a mermaid friend, and only she knows that they're not violent animals, but people, with minds and a society. Meela's massacre is personal; she wants revenge.
But of course it's more complicated than that--there are personal rivalries among the twenty girls on the ship, and danger and hardship and loyalties tested. And there are some loose threads here--mermaid society, as told through Lysi, sounds a lot like high school. And the book seems to take place in a modern setting (with the fantastical mermaid thing added), but you'd think there would be other proposed solutions besides the yearly Massacre. And how do the showers work on this ship, and does it make sense to sleep in nightgowns if you might have to fight at any moment?
So no, you should not try to fill this bucket with water and carry it across the desert. But it's more than adequate to play with at the beach (my GOD I'm nailing the theming here). Meela is stubborn and young and she makes some really stupid mistakes, but they're very standard stupid kid mistakes, and realistic. The book sags a bit in the middle, as we get a lot of repeated mermaid battles while the tensions on the ship are fraying--not enough build in the middle and a lot more (dare I say it) treading water.
BUT. The conclusion is satisfying. And the friendships here are varied and fraught in ways that I like--Annith, Blacktail, and Lysi are all different kinds of friends to Meela, and even mean-girl-turned bad Dani has different friends and alliances with different meanings.
One thing I'll say, hopefully not spoiling too much (but if it is, here's where you stop reading, because I warned you): I wondered for a while here if I was being queerbaited. Don't worry, dear reader; I was not.