Spanish merchant-sailor Fernando Santos Veracruz is a day or two from returning to Puerto Rico, where he makes his home. To celebrate, Fernando and the crew indulge in drinks and tall tales below decks. As one crew member enthusiastically recalls the famed cursed mermen of the Culebra archipelago, Fernando is informed that the Haste is not only several miles off course, but about to be overtaken by a pirate ship. Thinking fast, Fernando takes a gamble: the pirates may not follow them if the Haste sails close enough to some nearby islands—islands that just happen to be in the Culebra archipelago. But no sooner have the pirates retreated than Fernando and his crew discover that mermen are very much real…and the stories told about being seduced by siren song don’t hold a candle to the truth.
Cursed to live a life of perpetual, and perpetually unfulfilled, lust, Arian spends his days swimming among the isles of Culebra. He knows the stories told about mermen and that those same stories tend to keep any would-be lovers away. But one day, a sleek schooner sails right to the islands. And one man on the ship stands head and shoulders above the rest. His name is Fernando and the moment Arian sees him, Arian thinks only of how desperately he wants to claim that man. But the more time he spends with Fernando, the more Arian realizes he wants more than just to slake his lust. But how can a merman even attempt to convey the earnestness of his feelings to a human who likely only sees mermen as cursed devils?
Escaping the Merman is a heartily erotic, loosely historical fantasy story. It is also the first book in the Cursed Mermen series by Aramis Jordan. I thought the dialogue skewed decidedly toward the modern, which felt at odds with the apparent year in which the action takes place (1725)…but if nothing else, it certainly conveys the enthusiastic nature of Fernando and Arian’s frequent and graphic couplings. Fans of on-page intimacy will likely appreciate the pride-of-place Fernando and Arian’s physical relationship has in the book. For me, the overall dynamic was a bit too colored by Fernando’s frequent assertions that he was not attracted to men and by Arian’s attempts to convince Fernando that if he really wasn’t attracted to men, Fernando wouldn’t be sexually aroused. Plus, there’s the fact that Fernando is under the influence of Arian’s siren song and physically restrained at first. To their credit, Jordan takes up these two problematic (for me, at least) aspects of Fernando and Arian’s first few couplings early in the book.
Also, Fernando and Arian relate to each other in ways not solely built around Arian using sex to convince Fernando he is sexually attracted to men. The author spends a lot of time developing different scenarios that allow the two characters to interact in different ways, like when Arian teaches Fernando to fish or Fernando makes leaf-mats for the mermen to sleep on. There’s also the angst of Arian being convinced Fernando is disgusted by him because Arian is a merman. Or the horror when Arian discovers Fernando is a slave owner. Despite these two only being in each other’s company for a few lusty days, their experiences run the gamut. These experiences, paired with all the sex they have (and the monologues they get during intimate scenes), really helped paint a picture of these two developing feelings for each other. And it played well with the melodrama that befalls them in the second half of the book.
One of the most fun things for me was the way Jordan imagines these cursed mermen. They’re not just eternally and desperately horny. They physically lack any genitalia, from penises to testicles to even anuses (NB: their digestive tract ends at their belly buttons and there is apparently nothing sexual or sexy about them). In turn, this means the mermen lack the physical capability to reach orgasm. It was fun to read about Fernando attempting to actually give an orgasm to Arian. Sweet, problematic Fernando. Before being seduced by Arian, Fernando prided himself on always sexually satisfying any woman he was with. So naturally, he gets a bee in his bonnet about the fact-apparent that not even his sexual prowess will be enough to get Arian off. Yes. Fernando is determined to bring Arian to orgasm—Arian’s maleness, lack of sex organs, and Fernando’s own declarations of not being sexually interested in men. This was as bizarre as it was fun.
Of course, things gradually work towards a star-crossed lovers theme. This works out extra great when Fernando and Arian have a huge fight. Cue the “you don’t know what you have until you’ve lost it.” Of course, sensitive Arian more immediately and keenly feels the loss of Fernando. It takes Fernando some time to figure things out. For me, though, I really liked that the story was not 100% centered around Arian’s little island. The latter half of the book unfolds like a reimagining of The Little Mermaid, where Arian figures out a way to have one more day with Fernando—to apologize for their fight, to try to make things right. And of course, the conditions for getting one more day are incredibly steep. It is here where Fernando has fully shed his character flaws and embraced being the knight in shining armor.
All in all, this was a mostly fun, very sexy read. What I perceived as flaws in character presentation and power dynamics felt somewhat pronounced, but I still found myself pretty invested in how such different characters could possibly make a go of it. I enjoyed the pacing and that a goodly portion of the book was set not on the isle of sexy pursuits. If you like themes of unrequited love, very dubcon, mermen, and true love coming to the (or meandering to the) rescue, I think you’ll enjoy this book.