*This review will contain spoilers!*
‘I suddenly realized what made me feel so uncomfortable about Elizabeth’s exploits. The people she attracted were drawn to the same thing everyone else was: our glowing skin, dreamy eyes, and the air of secrecy. But this boy? He seemed to see more than that. He saw me not just as a mysterious beauty, but as a girl he wanted to know.
He didn’t stare at me. He spoke to me.’
‘It’s funny what you hold on to, the things you remember when everything ends.’
When we meet Kahlen, she’s on a luxury passenger liner with her family in the middle of a storm. Despite the weather raging outside, they hear music. Kahlen’s mother and father feel compelled to head to the deck and listen to the band. Despite Kahlen’s seasickness, she can’t help but follow them. Within moments her family have plunged to their deaths but Kahlen begs for her life, and the Ocean listens.
The Ocean agrees to allow Kahlen to live as a Siren for a century. There are only two rules: she must sing when told, and she must keep their true nature a secret. If she doesn’t break the rules, she will become human again after her sentence has passed. Upon return to the regular world, all memories are wiped. She won’t remember her past life, her time as a siren, or the thousands of death she’s responsible for.
Kahlen is constantly anxious of their secret being discovered. Her siren sisters, Miaka and Elizabeth, happily go out clubbing regularly. But Kahlen keeps herself to herself. The most she will do is wandering across the local university campus, popping into the library to research victims of the shipwrecks they’ve caused.
On a fateful visit, she meets Akinli. Kahlen can’t speak to him, but Akinli takes this in his stride. Fetching her a pen and paper, they have a conversation. Kahlen wonders if things can be different for her. Elizabeth has had dalliances with humans in the past; surely Kahlen’s allowed to have one friend? But when she starts falling for Akinli, she forces the girls to pack their bags and go.
Kahlen can’t keep Akinli out of her mind. She resists for months, but after a particularly painful singing she flees the Ocean and heads to his hometown. He’s surprisingly accepting of the fact that the disappearing girl has mysteriously reappeared on the beach near his home. After one perfect day together, Akinli and Kahlen kiss, and she blows everything by speaking to him.
Devastated by her mistake, the Ocean punishes Kahlen, adding another 50 years to her sentence. But when Kahlen becomes ill, is there any chance of her recovering from her broken heart?
The most off-putting thing about this novel is the names. Akinli explains his name (a last name on his mother’s side of the family) but what the hell kind of a name is Kahlen? She was born in the early 1900’s, so it’s historically inaccurate. Kiera Cass chooses memorable character names, but I would have preferred reading about a Mary or a Charlotte.
The blurb on the copy I read was also annoying. It features a direct quote from Kahlen and Akinli’s first kiss. The thing is, they don’t kiss until page 200. Struggling through two thirds of will-they-won’t-they bullshit while knowing they definitely do, because it’s spoiled on the back of the book? Majorly irritating. Whoever came up with that idea deserves a VERY slow round of applause.
That being said, it wasn’t dreadful. There was a tad too much instalove for me, but when dealing with books talking about soulmates and destiny that’s to be expected. Kiera’s depiction of sirens was far more complex than most that I’ve encountered in literature before. But the aspect that stood out most was the personification of the Ocean, which was heart-wrenching. The desperation and anguish that the Ocean experiences is far more emotional that Akinli and Kahlen’s love story.
The background characters had potential. Miaka was particularly interesting: she has a tragic backstory which she conceals. If Kiera writes more books set in this universe then companion novels could work, but it definitely doesn’t require a sequel.
If you’re looking for a quick read with a surprising amount of death and despair, I’d recommend ‘The Siren’. The characters and the mythology are strong: in fact, the only thing that isn’t particularly necessary is the romantic plot!