“Gay” is not a label Liam applied to himself, no matter his history of feeling attraction for other men. Rather, he relegated those thoughts to the realm of “youthful curiosity,” married a woman, and started a family. After six years of marriage, however, Liam is coming to discover that he just may actually be gay. He indulges his hidden desires by surreptitiously purchasing an adult magazine catering to gay men.
When his wife finds the incriminating magazine, however, his life starts to fall apart. Faster than he can explain that he will suppress his inclinations and uphold the bonds of marriage, his wife leaves him with divorce papers and alternate-weekend custody of their six-year old son. To cope, Liam finds solace on the shores of the Australian beaches. He never imagined he’d find the perfect boyfriend there as well—yet that is exactly what happens.
Ezra is a creature of the water. Wild waves and tumultuous seas are nothing to him. Yet when a human on the beach shows concern for Ezra’s well being during rough surf, Ezra can’t help but yearn to learn more about that man. Ezra doesn’t have to wait long to meet Liam. Nor does he keep secret the fact that he is a merman—and when he reveals his true self, Ezra is not disappointed by Liam’s reaction.
As the weeks pass, Liam and Ezra begin a sea-bound romance. For Liam, the connection is the one bright spot that keeps him positive while the divorce and custody issues buffet his personal life. For Ezra, he feels like he just may have finally found someone to love with his whole heart. Yet not all is smooth sailing. Whatever affections grow between them, the fact remains that Liam has obligations on land. If nothing else, Liam is a father and looking to gain full custody of his son. And Ezra is bound to the ocean—unless he is willing to give up his ocean home forever to join Liam on the land. Is passion and romance enough to tether these two lover together, or will they be rent apart by the very ocean that brought them together?
Overall, I found this story rather middling. The characters, for all that they have fantastical situations, are kind of lackluster for me. I appreciate all that Mansfield does to develop the characters, but it feels like surface decoration rather than ingrained qualities. In other words, it feels like the situations define the characters instead of the character’s, well, character guiding them through the action.
At first, I was kind of sympathetic to Liam, even though he is portrayed as a pretty weak character from the beginning. He never stands up to his overbearing wife (more on this WTFery in a moment), not even to fight for his son. As the story continues to unfold and we get into the dynamics of his relationship with Ezra, I felt more dislike for Liam because of his treatment of Ezra.
The details of Liam’s divorce pissed me off because it boils down to this: Liam’s wife had been having an extra-marital affair but she is the one who accuses Liam of being the home wrecker simply because he has one single gay porn magazine. Liam goes on to explain, after the magazine is discovered, that he was never going to ACT on his desires. I mean, if THIS is the set up for the demise of their relationship, it signals to me that Liam is emotionally/sexually repressed—but the rest of the story doesn’t specifically address how or even if he ever learns how to cope with this kind of emotional upheaval. And, yeah, it’s not hard to draw parallels between this behavior and how he reacts to Ezra’s unique situation.
In fact, given how the relationship plays out between Ezra (who is bound to the water as a merman) and Liam (who can only stand the water as long as any other human), I wound up feeling like Liam is rather a weak, emotionally selfish character. Especially grating is how it feels like he’s almost stringing Ezra along (albeit I do not think this is Mansfield’s INTENT, this is the subtext I got out of the story), when Ezra is being nothing but patient. It made me half expect Ezra to pull a 180 and start being controlling or domineering/threatening (but he didn’t).
Ezra fares a bit better as a character, but since the action is told from Liam’s POV, a lot of his backstory—including his sister and how their marking have evolved such that they COULD live in land, but they would then never be able to return to the sea to live as merfolk do (they’d only be as “mobile” as humans)—gets info-dumped. I think there are a lot of missed opportunities for showing the reader rather than just telling them what merfolk life is like.
Overall, this is a pretty run-of-the-mill story. I felt like our main characters had a lot of potential to grow, but the story doesn’t unfold in a way that lets them actually grow. Instead, we see them plodding along in a romance that, while clearly passionate for the lovers involved, doesn’t feel very satisfying because all I can see is Liam stringing Ezra along (albeit with good intentions). Still, if you are a sucker for any kind of mer-folk tale (like me), you might get a kick out of reading this.