4.5⭐️ – Tallora had too much fun at a party and, as a result, finds herself alone at sea during a storm. Noticing a boat in peril, she, like the good mermaid she is, tries to help a person who seems about to drown. But her good deed isn’t unpunished and instead of saving a life, she is kidnapped and taken away from her world. Her captor is Princess Dauriel, daughter of wicked Empress Vahla. By bringing this “gift” to her mother, Dauriel hoped to finally get her approval. Alas! Not only does her mother still despise her, but Dauriel is appalled at the way Tallora is treated. As time goes by, an unlikely friendship starts forming between the two women.
I’ve been wanting to read S. D. Simper’s books for a while but never got around to it. I was lucky enough to win a code for the second book in this series (thank you Lois Ridge), so I used a credit to get the first one. If, like me, you’re new to Simper’s books, the Sea and Stars series is set in the same universe as Fallen Gods but stands alone. Again, if you’re like me, you’re going to want to discover the Fallen Gods series too, which is, from what I understand, grittier and more intense than this one. I guess Sea and Stars is a softer introduction to the author’s world.
The Fate of Stars is a dark-but-not-too-dark enemies-to-lovers story (I can’t really call it a romance since the ending isn’t exactly happy), a very slow burn between a bisexual mermaid and a stone butch princess. It’s a tale of redemption, with a Stockholm Syndrome twist.
Dauriel is a good example of morally grey character. She isn’t as bad as she wants the world – that is, her mother – to think, and the reason Tallora ends up falling for her, despite the huge power imbalance, is her ability to show remorse and try to fix her mistakes and their consequences. Tallora, on the other hand, is much more straightforward. I’d say she’s a normal girl, except she’s a mermaid. She likes her life, she loves her fun, she’s witty and smart. What made the transition from hate to love credible was the hilarious and merciless banter between her and Dauriel, with Tallora never backing off. They gradually go from trading insults to gentle teasing, each earning the other’s respect as they go.
I love how Tallora’s perception of Dauriel’s physique changes as she comes to know and appreciate her. When she first sees her, she finds the princess plain but as the story progresses, she begins to view her as beautiful, noticing who she is beyond her looks and facade. Another interesting detail – a significant detail – is that when they first meet – ie when Tallora is kidnapped – Tallora’s body is that of a mermaid. That changes for reasons I can’t explain without spoiling, but it makes Tallora and Dauriel’s lovemaking all the more captivating as it’s the first time Tallora has sex in a human body.
Besides these two and a whole flock of secondary characters, from Dauriel’s awful mother to the courtesans or the foreign diplomats, the most impressive part is the world-building. It’s complex without being overwhelming and shows a world divided between a cruel and callous but progressive empire and an apparently kind kingdom ruled by religious extremism. The world where the story is set is very different from the one we live in – there are mermaids and mentions of dragons but also puppies and horses – yet is also very similar when it comes to power, politics and religious oppression.
As a side note, authors often have favourite words or turns of phrase. In Table for Two by Kate Gavin, the main characters whisper a lot. In this book, they keep stealing each other’s lips or hands. It’s sweet.
I enjoyed Lois Ridge’s narration a lot, the pace is pleasant, her character voices are distinctive – a very important aspect for me, as usual – and fit the characters’ personality. I especially liked Tallora’s voice, all at once light and firm, the strength almost palpable under the surface even when she feels vulnerable.
I just finished listening to the second book, Heart of Silver Flame, and I’m very impatient to review it and get to the third one!