Bank teller, and now a mystery author, Jody Knox just wants a quiet life with the man he loves. For a while, he thought that man might be the incredibly wealthy, Loyd Dawson. But Jody feels like Dawson ignores and belittles him, undercutting Jody at every turn. To add insult to injury, Dawson literally leaves Jody behind in all aspects of public life. That more than anything is an indication to Jody that they are through. And good riddance; not too long after the split, Jody meets Merik Lighthouse, a warm, kind man who is the opposite of Dawson in every regard. For one thing, Merik is about as far from wealthy as one can get. For another, he always builds Jody up. Merik is the one who found and encouraged Jody to publish his manuscripts. Jody doesn’t know that he and Merik met under false pretenses, but the spark of love between them is real enough.
Merik might have fallen for Jody, but that doesn’t mean he can come entirely clean. Months into their relationship, Merik cannot reveal that he likely would not have looked twice as Jody if it weren’t for Jody’s connection to Loyd Dawson. To Merik, Dawson is a person of interest because Merik suspects Dawson is kidnapping Merik’s people—mer people. This puts Merik in an impossible situation: he loves a man he still cannot prove is not working for Dawson and he cannot tell that man about his ability to shift into and out of mer person form. Things get even more untenable when Merik gets attacked and left for dead. First, Merik loses all the memories of his life with Jody. And second, he loses the ability to shift at will. Merik must rely on his family to uncover the truth about Dawson and cement his future with Jody. Too bad his family is even more wary of humans than Merik is of Dawson.
Wandering a Luminous Sea is a contemporary suspense fairytale from author Kayleigh Sky. Some of the book’s features include non-linear storytelling, a big amnesia trope, and lovers separated/reunited (and separated and reunited). There is also a bit of a found family theme and a flirtation with friends to something more. The story boasts a large cast and the narration (which shifts almost at every chapter) allows the reader plenty of insight into how all the different pieces of the puzzle are supposed to fit together.
Personally, I instantly fell in love with the tone of the book. Later, I’ll discuss my disappointment with the story mechanics, but I just enjoyed how the descriptive writing makes the setting pop to life in my head. The color palette of the magic sparkles Jody sees appealed to me without making me feel like I was reading a list of adjectives. Scenes were lyrically described consistently and in-line with my expectation of the California coast (I go several times a year and always note the aroma of eucalyptus). Based on the descriptions of the world, it just gave me a great sense of ethereal coziness that I wanted to immerse myself in.
I also enjoyed the characters’ personalities for the most part. While Jody and Merik fill the roles of “heroes and love interests,” Loyd Dawson embodies vice and cruelty to a “T.” Neither of our two MCs is perfect, though. I liked that Jody seems pretty introverted, even with Merik, with whom he is supposed to be the closest. Jody is not a ripped beefcake type, but a pencil pusher who works in a bank, loves to read mysteries, and thinks it’s amazing his own effort at story crafting was wildly successful. He has a penchant for little mysteries and will create his own, like naming his male dog Ellery Queen and patronizing a local coffee shop that only offers tepid coffee. Similarly, Merik might be The Hot One in this couple, but he is deeply suspicious…even of Jody…even after he knows he’s fallen in love with the guy. Once Merik loses his memories of his life with Jody, he still aches with longing for that life and those memories. We learn that his biggest struggle is to commit to something, which felt reasonably backed up by his actions in the text. Hell, even Dawson’s henchman (who stars in several of the chapters) works great as a character.
With a stellar setting and well-balanced cast, I was excited to see where the story would go. The problem, though, was the execution. Everything about the pacing and organization of the story disappointed. After the story opens with a scene that actually occurs around the climax of the book, Sky settles into alternating timelines: now and a year ago. I think this mixed timelines rubbed me so wrong for two reasons. First, Jody and Merik are separated in the “now,” so Jody is dealing with grief at a missing-and-presumed-dead-lover (to whom he was about to propose). Second, the “then” is steeped with Merik’s commentary that he only ever engaged with Jody because he worries Jody is somehow in cahoots with Dawson or because he sees Jody as a way to get closer to Dawson. Neither the “now” nor the “then” really managed to convey these two as star-crossed lovers who were devoted to each other—just memories that were tainted by apparent bereavement in Jody’s case and an unreliable sense of memory in Merik’s case.
The overall flow of the story also suffers a bit from what I think feel like big jumps in between chapters. This is exacerbated by the fact that you can jump from “now” to “then” between chapters and because two chapters from the same character that seem to be part of the same action might be “interrupted” with a chapter from another character doing something wholly unrelated. Granted, each chapter has a title so you know whose perspective is being highlighted and a month (or “a year ago”) in the header. But it still felt like big jumps were happening and some details felt like they got lost in that jump.
Overall, I liked the feel of this book and the tropes it highlights. I am a sucker for an amnesia thread, but it was just bizarre that I never learned if Merik actually got his memories back or he felt satisfied with his gut instinct that he wanted his life with Jody back. The separated lovers theme felt heavy-handed, especially since there was at least one opportunity for Jody and Merik to reunite halfway through that is just squandered. Still, if you are a die-hard fan of anything mer-related or like fairytales (there is a fairytale built into the story that, like the amnesia, is very prominent and known to all the characters but never really goes anywhere), you’ll find things to enjoy about this book. I would have liked to rate it higher, but the execution and dangling plot points were just too distracting/frustrating.