Rating: 3.5 stars
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After a disastrous affair with his father’s closeted business partner, Gabe Overton is being sent far away for an extended “vacation” on the island of Bimini, near Bermuda. Even though the other man was older and Gabe had no idea he was married, Gabe’s father still blames him and pretty much has dismissed Gabe from his life. When Gabe’s plane crashes in a freak storm near the Bermuda Triangle, he thinks this is the end for him. That is until he is rescued by a strange man, a merman actually, who not only saves Gabe’s life but also gifts him with a rare black pearl he implants in Gabe’s forehead.
When Gabe wakes up on the beach he assumes it was all a dream. That is until he meets Aaron, a fellow survivor of the Triangle. It turns out they are on Bimini, but only certain people are allowed through the veil onto the island, and none are able to leave (Gabe himself has been there around 100 years but is still young due to the Island’s magical properties). It turns out that Aaron lives in a village with others who have somehow passed through the veil. And they are led by an evil and tyrannical priest, Father Willis. Despite the fact that Aaron knows Willis is a bad guy, most of the others blindly follow him, so he warns Gabe to keep his head down. Especially because that pearl he has implanted in his forehead means that his merman savior has officially claimed Gabe as a mate.
Gabe is shocked by these developments, but doesn’t have much time to ponder them as Father Willis turns out to be up to just as much trouble as Aaron had feared. But Gabe’s connection with his merman is strong, and Paxton is there to help him, welcoming Gabe into his life. But the danger with Father Willis isn’t over and he continues to threaten both the villagers and the merfolk alike. Now that Gabe and Paxton have found happiness together, they must work to get rid of the evil Willis before he does further harm.
So mermen, yeah! Who doesn’t love mermen? I particularly love this trope so I was so excited to try this one out. And I think Lyn crafts an interesting storyline here with the plane crash and the mysterious island where no one ages and no one can leave (I got sort of a Lost vibe here). In fact, I would have loved to learn more about the villagers and how they got there and how they are managing to survive. So neat setup and an interesting twist with the mating pearls and the connection between the villagers and the merfolk living in their underwater world. Lyn gives us great descriptions of the merfolk and their kingdom and I could really picture it all well. I also thought the story had some clever structure in that a major confrontation with Willis happens early on in the story, rather than the build to the third act conflict (though that happens as well). So I though the story had some nice bones and some of the world building elements worked nicely for me.
Unfortunately, I also ran into a lot of areas where things just didn’t work for me and where the story left me with too many unresolved questions. So bear with me here. Right from the start, I ran into problems. Bimini is a real island and a place where real people live and travel (hence why Gabe is flying there for vacation). But it is also the same island where people arrive after passing through the veil, a magical place only a few can enter and none can leave. So how is both a real place and a magical one at the same time? Where are all the actual people who live on and travel to Bimini? And when Gabe’s plane crashes into the water, the plane is destroyed and the pilot presumably dead. Yet inexplicably Gabe manages to survive the crash without a scratch. These are just some of the areas where I ran into questions and confusion, but I don’t want to spoil any of the book and I think you guys get my drift here.
Then we have the relationships with the merfolk. Basically a mer has a pearl in his/her forehead and one extra to give to a claimed mate. (Which I get if they have human mates, but what happens when two mers mate? Double pearls? Confusing.) So after literally nothing more than a smile from Gabe while he is being rescued, and without Gabe’s consent, Paxton implants a pearl on his forehead, “claiming him” as his mate, as is the custom of the merfolk. Paxton then must wait for Gabe to accept that bond of mating and agree to join with him. But Paxton can’t talk to Gabe nor can he leave the water, so it is hard to see what Gabe and these other claimed mates are basing their decisions upon to bond with their potential partners. So I am willing to accept mating bonds and instalove and all that in my paranormals, but I struggled here because there is basically no sense of connection at all between these two guys. Paxton claims Gabe based on his sense of a shared wounded spirit (that he gets from 10 seconds of silent interaction while Gabe is drowning). And Gabe seems to be attracted to Paxton purely because he is hot and because he wants Gabe.
I do think Lyn gives us a good sense of Gabe and his issues, mostly centered around a feeling of not being wanted. His parents have no real use for him and upon discovering Gabe’s affair his father tosses him out. And Gabe is emotionally wounded after this relationship that he thought was real and meaningful suddenly turns out to be a sham of an older guy using him and stringing him along while going home to his wife and kids each night. I will say I found a Gabe bit over the top in his self-doubts; a couple of hookups and one failed relationship doesn’t make you unloveable and he is just incredibly needy. Basically all Gabe seems to care about in relation to Paxton is whether Paxton wants him and whether he will abandon him like his past boyfriend did. Even once they are professing love for one another, Gabe’s love seems totally based on Paxton’s wanting him, not at all on Paxton himself.
I also think that while we get a lot of understanding about Gabe, many of the other characters are pretty flat. We get no real sense of what Paxton sees in Gabe or much about his personality other than being a kind, alpha leader. But the worst for me is Willis who is basically just a Bad Guy. He is evil and murders and tortures and rapes (all off page). We know he is greedy and has some megalomaniacal plans to take over the world (that make little sense to me). But he is so undeveloped as to be just cartoonishly evil. Considering the sole conflict in the story is based upon Willis, I needed a lot more from his character development.
The last thing I wanted to mention is that we get the story from Gabe’s third person POV, but we get periodic passages of his thoughts told in first person. Basically these are written in a way that no one actually thinks, but seem to be there merely to provide exposition rather than working it into the story. We get a lot of “Why I am feeling this way? Oh, here I will explain it to myself” kind of moments. Here is an example as Gabe thinks about Paxton:
Why did he heal me? No one has ever done something for me out of the goodness of their heart… they always want something in return. Could he have an angle? No, that just doesn’t feel right… but after William, I have a hard time trusting this stranger isn’t trying to butter me up for something. But I still don’t understand why he would help me; why he continues to help me? What’s so amazing about me that he’d mark and claim me as his own…? I’m a nobody…
I just found it very distracting and wished these thoughts could have been incorporated into the story rather than set off like this.
Ok, so unfortunately I had a lot of issues here. I will say, I am super nitpicky about these kinds of things. I need everything to be clear and make sense and it bugs me when things are untidy. But there are lots of people for whom these things are probably non issues. And as I said, the framework of the story here is good. So if you are someone who can just take this book for what it is, I think there is a lot to find enjoyable here and it will definitely work for some folks. So overall I would say good with some issues.
Cover Review: I like this cover and appreciate the model looks just like Gabe is described (along with Paxton). Nicely done.