It was clear from the very first page that I would adore this novel. I was already familiar with Laura Dockrill’s middle-grade Darcy Burdock series and could not resist picking up Lorali, her first venture into Young Adult fiction.
I mean, mermaid themed novels might not be everyone’s cup of tea – magical, whimsical storylines and shiny covers certainly aren’t for everyone – but not only does Lorali break that mould, it depicts an incredibly clever, and at times a much darker, storyline than you might originally imagine. Think The Little Mermaid played out over Twitter and through the British tabloids.
Personally? I love stories about magic – wizards, mermaids, vampires, zombies – and I was immediately drawn to the synopsis. So when I saw the beautiful cover – and guys and gals, I know we aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover but this one is so very pretty – I knew that it would be my cup of tea.
I’d previously read an article by Dockrill – another female young adult author I admire immensely and who just so happens to share my interest in crazy coloured/pattern clothing and pugs **fangirl alert**– on why being a freak is a wonderful (full feature published in The Guardian). She says:
“I am fascinated with the “individual.” I have often written about odd ones out, isolated, obscure, creepers and loners. Weirdos, freaks, “losers”, watchers of the world. The runts of society’s litter. I believe everybody with a heart has a story; the unsung stories usually are the ones with the most heart. And these are kind of the characters she creates in Lorali. The freaks. The mermaids. The teenage boy unsure of his standing in the world, the old man in the lighthouse that everyone in town thinks is crazy, the quiet and sensitive boy. They are the most beautiful, vibrant and interesting characters. I wrote Lorali, my new mermaid book, because I felt that wallflowers get a lot of stick. Portrayed as weak, outnumbered or blinded by dark sinister thoughts. I chose mermaids because I wanted to create a protagonist that was undeniably beautiful yet bizarre. She could be an accident from nature or a deliberate creation. Completely celebrated for her uniqueness, praised for her vulnerability and quirks. She is loved. Yes, she is different. SHE IS HALF MONSTER FISH! And she is new to the world – but isn’t everybody?
For me, that’s what Dockrill does best: creates engaging characters and champions the underdog, the freak. These characters are so full of life and so relatable, that it’s hard not to become entangled with the stories she creates. In all honesty, I could not put the novel down and I adored Rory. I was rooting for him the whole time.
The story is told from three point of views; Rory, Lorali and, rather interestingly, The Sea. The writing style is very recognisable to a Brit, particularly an English teenager, with Rory’s chapters being very true to his age group. I absolutely loved the use of slang in his narrative. Rory talks to the reader as though he is talking to a friend, and that is the way it should be. Full of anxieties about liking Lorali, what his mates things about him and embarrassed about the way he still loves and misses his mother.
Lorali is a wide eyed, naïve and lovable character, her chapters are made up of thoughts and fragments, bringing an honesty to her narrative. There is a clear difference between Rory and Lorali’s chapters. It is clear from the voice that Lorali is not just another teenage, she is different, she is special. I loved the concept of using The Sea as a narrator and it works well, addressing the reader directly like an old friend filling you in on what’s going on both below and above the water. The Sea is impartial although it does have opinions about each of the characters and perhaps may even lend a helping hand when times are tough. It’s a very clever way to get across a whole heap of information that might otherwise seem irrelevant or thrown haphazardly into the narrative. We learn all about the Mer, about the pirates, the history of the sea, and what lurks beneath the water, all told by the very thing that watches them. It is an honest portrayal of each group of characters. The Sea has nothing to lose or gain by trying to persuade us about each character or who is right or wrong. It put me in mind of Death from The Book Thief, that sort of omnipresent author caught up in the goings on of the human world.
Dockrill creates an entirely realistic world. There is no fairy-tale here, walkers and mer live alongside one another. It isn’t a magical existence, steeped in secrets. The seaside town of Hastings is so real you can almost smell it, almost taste the sea air, the chips that Rory is eating in the beginning. Similarly, the world that she creates beneath the surface of the sea is – weirdly – believable. It isn’t an old world steeped in tradition, its relatively modern – complete with fancy catering for Lorali’s resolution party. The Mer are as petty and jealous as human beings, bullying Opal for her attachment to the walker world, I place they do not understand and treat with fear.
At its heart, Lorali is a love story, but that’s not all its about. It’s not that instant romance that seems to be banded around in fiction too often, it’s a gradual thing. Realistic. We watch as Rory and Lorali fall in love with each other. It’s so wonderfully awkward and teenage – Lorali’s worry that the morning after the first time is all too much for Rory to take, that he might think badly of her. Rory’s comparing of his flirtations with Bev and how he feels about Lorali. We all remember being there!
I only have one teeny tiny issue with the novel. While Dockrill cleverly – and bravely, after all this is YA fiction – tackles dark subjects such as unhappy marriages, suicide, murder, domestic violence and abuse, her female characters – bar Lorali – are all victims. Sure, the Mer women are fierce and beautiful and, might I add, the ones who rule over The Whirl, they are still victims of men. Netta, the one who began it all after being brutally cast over the side of a swishing boat by her abusive husband, meets a grisly end at the hands of pirate who torture, rape, abuse and use her until she is finally killed.
Anyway, for me the story is beautifully written and I enjoyed it immensely. It is one of the best UKYA novels I have read for a very long time and in a sea of American writers churning out fantasy fiction like Twilight and Divergent, Lorali is a breath of fresh British seaside air.