Sixteen-year-old Nerissa Marin, daughter and next heir of the Aquarathi's High Court, just wants to be normal. She goes to a normal high school, has normal friends, and does normal girly things like shopping and surfing and field hockey, but when her father is murdered for reasons she knows are beyond political, she is forced to face her greatest fear: sacrifice her "normal" life and return to the kingdom of Waterfell to serve as the reluctant queen. However, Ehmora, an evil and spiteful lower-ranking ruler, wants to take over the fallen kingdom, and is even willing to challenge Riss for the throne, which won't only make her transition to ruler even more difficult, but may reveal secrets about Riss's familyÃ¢â?¬â??and about RissÃ¢â?¬â??that are beyond her wildest beliefs.
Even though Waterfell is about supernatural beings that live underwater, it is a far cry from your typical mermaid romance. In fact, the species here aren't even mermaids; they're Aquarathi, a vividly created variety of alien, who look more like Loch Ness monsters (but can take on human forms) and reside at the bottom of the ocean.
The alternate Aquarathi world Howard constructs is stunning and really elaborate, but that's where my praise for this book ends. As detailed as Nerissa's universe is and as original as the story was, everything is painfully predictable, from the character twists (I guessed Lo's "deep dark secret" the moment we meet him), to the final battle against Ehmora, which isn't only predictable, but also anticlimactic. There are random curveballs thrown into the plotÃ¢â?¬â??which I'll refrain from giving away out of respect for spoiler-phobicsÃ¢â?¬â??and these are unexpected, but none of them are particularly shocking or significant to the story. The organization of the elements of surprise is very poor; although there is a lot of tension regarding Nerissa's safety and royal obligations, there is no "Oh my god" moment. Waterfell just plateaus at a certain point, and afterwards it's all just very "meh."
Even more unfortunately, I really, really disliked Nerissa. She does have her tender, vulnerable moments (in which I momentarily pity her, at best), but there is nothing about her that is friendly or even pleasant. She's quite bitchy, as a matter of fact; I tolerated her as a character, but as a narrator, found her excruciating. Her priorities blur when she meets a charming, troubled boy with mysterious, jolting blue eyes... Lo Seavon, a mere human boyÃ¢â?¬â??and yet unlike any human she's met before. As she becomes more and more entangled in the mess that is teenage love, her faith in humanity proves to be her biggest strength and possibly even her most catastrophic downfall... which is just what Ehmora may be anticipating from her.
Lo, the love interest, isn't much of an improvement in terms of irritating characters. There's a lot of focus on the color of his eyes and the angle of his smile, but he's so unmemorable and insubstantial, that the entire "romantic" aspect of this book just completely falls apart. There is no spark between him and Riss, no love (none I could feel, anyway). This establishes very flimsy grounds for a YA romance, and I was highly disappointed with it.
Another thing that made Waterfell difficult to get through was Howard's penchant for telling, rather than showing. She has a solid style and tells a linear story studded with danger, betrayals, and plenty of secrets, but her superfluous descriptions are exasperatingÃ¢â?¬â??eventually, an undemonstrative style gets dull. I swear I'm not being nit-picky, here; there are literally lines and lines that go on like this: "Lo is so arrogant but at the same time sweet, smart, and caring ... He's handsome but troubled." Why would anyone EVER try to summarize such crucial characterization into single sentences like that?! Okay, rant over.
Pros: Creative notion of Aquarathi and underwater kingdom // Steep tension (which admittedly leads to a disappointing peak) // Easy to follow; paranormal world well explained // Strong narrative voice // Messages about humanity, friendship, and duty
Cons: Hate Nerissa as a person/alien // Romance is a dud; I neither liked Lo, nor did I feel any chemistry // Every. single. character. is annoying and so two-dimensional that it's unrealistic // Terribly anticlimactic // Lots of telling over showing; makes for lots of boring details
Verdict: Waterfell shows some promise with its highly imaginative underwater universe, but I couldn't really get into it because of its static, predictable plot combined with even more static, even more predictable characters (Nerissa MARin? Lo SEAvon? That isn't just a coincidence, and it's ridiculous how the naming just go casually unnoticed). Amalie Howard's first in the Aquarathi series isn't miserable; I do think it was worth reading, if only just for the straightforward story, as well as for Nerissa's fascinating transition into the royalty kingdom. If you're looking for a really good toe-curling paranormal young adult romance, however, this would not be the first book I'd recommend you reach for; while it does illuminate upon the humanity of love and how it can both weaken and empower, I found it mediocre at best, and weak in multiple vital areas.
Rating: 5 out of 10 hearts (3 stars): Doesn't particularly light any of my fires; I feel indifferent about this book.
Source: Complimentary ARC provided by publicist in exchange for an honest and unbiased review as part of the virtual book tour (thank you, JKS Communications!).show more