A year ago, Royce fell off his fishing boat and would have drowned, if not for being rescued by what appeared to be a red-haired merman. Royce thought merfolk were long gone and he isn’t sure he can trust his memory of the terrifying night. But he still can’t get the man out of his head. When Royce’s mystery mer shows up on his ship, naked, freezing, and appearing human, Royce can’t believe the man is back in his life.
Troller has been searching for Royce ever since he had to flee his pod. Troller discovered the shocking truth one of his leaders was hiding and now the man is after him. Rather than be imprisoned, Troller instead sought out the man whom he saved in hopes he will be given refuge in return. The spark between Troller and Royce is still there and the two quickly settle into a relationship and begin to build a life together. Troller misses his pod, but he knows he isn’t safe there. But when the danger comes to them, it will take all Troller and Royce have to make sure the truth comes out.
Prince’s Tide grabbed my attention from the blurb, as I tend to enjoy mer stories and I was interested to try a new-to-me author in M.L. Eaden. Unfortunately, however, this story really didn’t work for me right from the start and only slightly improved as it went along. On the positive side, Eaden does have some nice world building with regard to the world of the merfolk and, toward the end, we learn some interesting things about their history. I appreciated that the story includes a variety of LGBTQ characters and that diversity is nicely incorporated into the story. We ultimately get to see Royce and Troller bring about some positive change for Troller’s community and there is a nice happy ending for the men and the other side characters.
Ok, so let’s get into it. I struggled with this story right from the start as all the initial action happens off page. Royce briefly recaps his near death and rescue as he casually tells the story to his friends a year later. So we don’t ever see him fall off the ship and get rescued by Troller. We don’t experience it live from either Royce or Troller’s POVs. It is just presented as a brief, not particularly detailed story in a bar. We also don’t see any of things things Troller goes through before he gets to Royce a year later — not his initial (and daring) forays to the surface, not his encounter with the leader of his pod that causes him to need to flee, and not his arduous attempts to find Royce. All of that happens off page before the story starts and is only briefly recounted later. It just sucked all the energy out of the story to completely skip over these major (and presumably exciting) events. Everything that is mentioned in the blurb before Troller shows up naked on the boat happens before the story even starts and is totally off page. I just don’t understand why these major milestones for the story, the characters, and their relationship aren’t shown, but then we get tons of detail on other things that aren’t that important. This early part of the book is the most egregious example, but we just get a lot of telling about things that happen with very little showing or letting us experience it along with the characters.
I also found the story had an unsettling lack of time, place, or setting. I honestly had no idea this was set in the contemporary world until about 1/4 of the way through the story. I thought this was some sort of historical high seas sailor adventure from the way things are described, only to find out that this whole thing takes place in the waters off Galveston, Texas in modern day. But even knowing that is where and when the book is set, there is virtually nothing that gives any real sense of time or place in the story other than a rare modern amenity, like cell phones. This story could literally have taken place anywhere in the world (and at almost any time in history) with virtually nothing changing. It’s hard to describe other than to say there is just this void where the framing around the story should have been. It is made even more strange because while this is supposed to be contemporary world, there are one or two random moments of futuristic technology. The author notes in the blurb that the “Mythical Desires Universe is a queer-centric world where myth and legends exist alongside advanced science and technology.” Which could have been cool, but there is virtually none of this technology actually then on display. At one point early on, there is mention that a “technomage” has designed a disposal system on the boat that makes their human waste turn into fuel. Later, someone goes to watch “sports on the holo.” That is literally all that I could find in the whole book that includes advanced technology. It just seemed so pointless and throwaway. Either lean into it and make this a modern world with futuristic technology, or don’t bother. But making them watch a holo versus a TV when that is essentially the only futuristic advancement makes no sense to me. Then, there is also magic in this world, which is common in fantasy/paranormals that take place in present day and I think was a good fit. But again, it is barely used or mentioned. We see or hear about one or two spells and that’s it. So I just feel like this story doesn’t develop anything well enough to give the book any real sense of time, place, or genre.
Once Troller shows up on the boat, the guys are basically instantly in love in two days. Troller speaks no human language, but in 8 hours he manages to learn conversational English after listening to a Kindle read aloud some children’s books. I am not sure how we are supposed to believe that’s all it takes to learn an entirely new language, not to mention he can speak tons of words that would never be in a kid’s book (Iike he refers to his “ass” despite that not being a word he would have learned). So Troller shows up, learns English in a day, then it is just accepted that he is now living there with Royce indefinitely with no discussion. Royce doesn’t ask anything about why Troller is there and Troller offers no explanation. They just start a life together. It is just such a weird pacing thing. Major events happen off page and they are in love immediately, but then we get long sections of random day in the life experiences as the guys hang out on the boat (though virtually nothing that shows them actually working as fishermen), or large detailed descriptions of days and days of time with Troller’s pod. The story just feels off balance with some things way overdeveloped and others not at all.
Unfortunately, character development is also minimal. I don’t feel like we get to know much about either character, but particularly Royce. Then out of nowhere, we suddenly learn he is the son of a prince. I literally gasped out loud in shock, this just felt so random. And not just the son of any prince, a prince who fell in love with his guard and left royal life to retire to Florida. And apparently Royce doesn’t get to see his parents much because “The minute someone recognizes me, everyone swoops in like vultures, looking for the ‘lost prince.'” So apparently Royce is so famous he can barely venture out for fear of being swarmed by paparazzi (and has a nickname no less), but yet, not once in the whole book does anyone recognize him or seem to care who he is. Not to mention, what country is his father supposedly a prince of? We get absolutely zero context or explanation for any of this. It seemed so completely random, until I realized this is possibly there as one of the few Little Mermaid elements thrown into the book (redheaded merman rescues Prince who almost drowns, keeps a room full of trinkets from human world). But this isn’t described as a Little Mermaid retelling, nor are there other recognizable elements from the story, so it just feels random an undeveloped.
I don’t want to get bogged down on listing a million things that didn’t work for me. I think the basic idea is clear. Too much telling, not enough showing. No real sense of time or place. Pacing that skips over major things and spends lots of time on others. The storytelling and writing just felt simplistic and the whole thing just not really developed. I had high hopes for this one, but unfortunately it just didn’t come together enough for me.