The ocean is uncontrollable and dangerous. But to the sirens who swim the warm island waters, it’s a home more than worth protecting from the humans and their steam-propelled ships. Between their hypnotic voices and the strength of their powerful tails, sirens have little to fear.
That is, until the ruthless pirate captain, Kian, creates a device to cancel out their songs.
Perle was the first siren captured, and while all since have either been sold or killed, Kian still keeps them prisoner. Though their song is muted and their tail paralyzed, Perle’s hope for escape rekindles as another pirating vessel seizes Kian’s ship. This new captain seems different, with his brilliant smile and his promises that Kian will never again be Perle’s master. But he’s still a human, and a captor in his own way. The compassion he and his rag-tag human family show can’t be sincere… or can it?
Soon it becomes clear that Kian will hunt Perle relentlessly, taking down any siren in her path. As the tides turn, Perle must decide whether to run from Kian forever, or ride the forming wave into battle, hoping their newfound human companions will fight with them.
This adult fantasy novel featuring a nonbinary disabled protagonist is a voyage of laughter and danger where friendships and love abound and sirens are sure to steal—or eat—your heart.
HUNGER HAUNTS ME like a bull shark. With every roll of the ship, the gunk inside my stagnant tub sloshes against my waist, stinging anew. The tight wooden room’s stale air burns my lungs.
Steam whistles in the pipes that run along the walls, their copper gleaming in the dim ceiling light. My wrists throb where the metal cuffs locking me to the tub dig into my silver scales. The gill slits along my neck are clamped shut after a year without seawater and my head fins stick to my scalp like barnacles to rock.
I try to anchor myself with the memory of home, of fine sands and vibrant reefs, but I can barely recall the rush of the warm current or the thrill of the hunt. Even a single wrasse sounds like a feast now. Or a few human fingers.READ MORE
At least I can still smell the sharp brine of the ocean. When the ship rocks, the small, circular window to my left reveals the sea rolling in an endless stretch of deep blue, begging me to return. The silhouette of an approaching vessel forms a blur on its horizon.
I squint at the hazy shape, but Captain Kian’s roar of irritation from an upper deck makes me recoil. My captor’s harsh voice is so loud it seems to shudder its way down my spine.
The new vessel leaves my sight as the ship I’m captive on—the Oyster—turns toward it. The steam stacks clatter to life somewhere beneath me. Fabric and metal wings stretch out from the sides of the Oyster, and the ship bursts forward, riding just above the crests of the waves.
The sudden change in speed shoves me backward, tossing up my putrid water. As the liquid recoils, it grazes my largest tail fin, lying limp over the far edge of the tub. For all the pain I suffer, I nearly forget my tail exists, its iridescent gleam washed away by the filth and grime of the tub. It must still be impaired from the massive, anchor-like weight my captor crushed it beneath when she first locked me here. I can’t bring myself to focus on its lifeless form for long. I wasn’t meant for this.
I need the sea.
The ship tilts, turning again, and the ocean rises into view. The vessel from earlier reappears, skimming above the shimmering crests, much nearer now. A marauder’s flag flies from its highest mast, a harsh scarlet with a crossed gun and sword, only a slight variation from the one the Oyster boasts. Just another pirate. Useless.
But this ship looks fancier than others the Oyster has fought. A series of small propellers spin in a blur along its scooping metal wings. Five main decks are visible, not including the levels piled at each end, all dark wood and silver finishings. Steam rises from four stacks sticking out of its back like mechanical dorsal spines. Its broad sails are in full bloom, pressed open like the stretched skin between an octopus’s tentacles.
Wisps of smoke stream from the approaching ship’s bow as its cannons fire. The Oyster rocks to the song of crunching wood. A rush of giddiness runs through me, and I tighten my hands around the edges of the tub. But then my stomach drops.
If the Oyster sinks, I sink with it, the metal weight trapping me inside this foreign container of wood until I’m crushed or I starve. A better death than what surely awaits me now, but death all the same. Not that my worries and hopes make any difference. The Oyster never loses.
The Oyster returns fire, its assault twice as powerful as the attacking ship. Before the cannonballs hit, a flash of light covers the sides of the enemy vessel, some form of translucent shielding unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I blink to convince myself it’s there. The cannonballs deflect off it, plunging uselessly to the water.
With the attacking ship almost upon us, the Oyster fires again. This time it’s not the harsh boom of the cannon, but a terrible, soft sputter. Purple light shoots from the Oyster, dividing and glowing like lightning. It hits the approaching vessel and engulfs it. Some of the crew jerk about and fall, near enough that I can make out their stunned faces.
The enemy ship loses speed until its hull hits the water, careening as it crashes into us. Its sturdier, propellered wings crush through the Oyster’s in a jarring twist of metal and fabric. Its hull slams against the Oyster, filling up my window and blocking out all but the faintest light. The tub rocks with such force that some of the foul water spills out of it, and pain shoots through my side as my ribs hit the edge. My chest burns, my heart rattling.
On the decks above, roars of attack and bellows of pain mix with gunshots and clashes of metal. The Oyster… boarded? The thought flounders through my mind as I struggle to process it.
Just overhead, the wood creaks under the weight of running feet. The sound dies in the bang of a pistol and the thud of a body. Slowly, a crack in the wood turns red. The liquid drips.
I lunge forward, catching the drop on my tongue. A soft, instinctive moan rises in my throat as the sharp taste spreads, hot and wonderful. The first fresh blood I’ve had in weeks. I open my mouth and let the rest drizzle in. What I miss trickles along my face, sliding down my neck and tinting the water pink. It’s not the ocean, but it feels better than the air or the foul stuff in the tub. I would bathe in it if I could.
As the sounds of battle fade, the ships slip apart, revealing a stretch of sea and sky beyond the window. One of the Oyster’s small, flying dinghies races through the air. Steam blows from the dinghy’s miniature stacks as a single massive propeller shoots it forward, its huge side fins providing lift. Captain Kian grips its sail, her dark hair pulled back in a low bun.
The sight of her drives a tremble down my spine, and I shrink back in the tub. She can’t see me in here. She can’t reach me. But even her gaze can hurt, the mere sound of her voice a tidal wave of silt and poison, stunning me from the inside out.
I force myself to watch her, because if I don’t, I’ll never truly believe she’s leaving the Oyster. Her first mate sits beside her, shadowed by the mast. A cannonball shoots by them, but they vanish into the clouds, unscathed. The attacker’s ship moves again, blocking the window once more.
I wait for relief to settle in. Kian’s gone—gone with her fists and her raised voice. And she left me behind. But I can’t feel her absence, not while the chains bite my wrists and the shouts of humans ring around me.
Beyond this bathtub room, the door to the main cabin rattles and opens with a bang. The thud of two sets of boots follow. A chill rises in my bones.
These new humans can be here for only one purpose: to learn how Kian captured my kind without succumbing to our songs. But what will they do with me? Kian held the other sirens she caught for a week or two, their voices echoing from the other end of the ship in choruses I can no longer create. Once we reached a harbor, they were sold to humans on shore. But through every cycle, Kian kept me.
I must have been the first she caught, the first anyone caught alive. I was her prize to herself for doing the impossible. My kind were untouchable—until Kian netted us.
Now, we’re the humans’ prey.
The hinges of Kian’s chests squeak, followed by the scraping and banging of drawers. Someone curses, their voice deeper than Kian’s. Their footsteps come nearer until they’re just beyond the door separating my little room from Kian’s large one. The latch opens with a ghastly click that jars my bones. Someone pulls the door outward.
I flinch away from the light that pours in from the large, ornate windows in the main cabin. Three orange shell lamps add to the radiance, glistening off the trinkets on the desk and accenting the golden embroidery on the bed covers. The gears of the hanging clock spin and click rhythmically.
Two humans stand in the midst of it all.COLLAPSE
Camillea on Camillea Reads wrote:
“This book was amazing, it had me hook and sinker from the first page.”
Perle on Our Bloody Pearl's main character wrote:
“This is a book which will warm your heart and make you laugh; it is the kind of book you come out of with a better understanding of people and relationships.”
“Zero stars for being inedible.”