Review:"Swimming Without a Net" by MaryJanice Davidson

Swimming Without a NetSummary: Fred is uniquely suited to her job. She's a marine biologist who also happens to be half-mermaid. It's easy to study fish when you can swim with them. But aside from making use of her natural ability in the workplace, she has done very little to associate with her father's side of the family. Given this, she is shocked to find out that she is the honored guest at a Pelagic, the Undersea Folks' version of a family gathering, called only when there is a matter of utmost importance to be decided in the governance of the mer-people.

Joining her in this duty she doesn't want is her best-friend, a psuedo-gay chemist for Aveda named Jonas, Thomas, a marine biologist, and Artur, prince of the Undersea Folk. Between Thomas trying woo her, Artur trying to woo her, and the whole undersea kingdom looking to her to tell them if they should reveal themselves to the world, Fred finds herself spun about and frazzled, not really sure what she should say to any of them.

Commentary: My initial attraction to this book was simply this: human male and mermaid female? How is that going to work? From a biological perspective, you see. Not just the scales, but, you know. How?

Turns out this was answered pretty quickly. Mermaids' (and mermens') tails just kind of "pop" into and out of existence. If they want to walk on land, they walk on land. If they want to swim . . . "pop," and they're swimming. No rules apply and no explanations are offered. And maybe that would normally be okay, except that this kind of short-hand seems to be the entire substance of this book.

Let me begin first with the heroine, Fredrika Bimm. Now, it has been my experience so far that romance writers like to have perky, opinionated women as their heroines. It's very pro-feminist. These ladies don't take guff and they don't care much for being proper. And men are only worth having around if they're willing to put in the effort to deal with a difficult woman. This can be entertaining, and it does tend to give one hope that there is, indeed, someone for everyone. However, there is a line. It is the line between snarky and bitchy. It is the line between assertive and insufferable. It is the line between wanting to have your way and inflicting physical pain to ensure that you get it. Fred, in my solemn judgment, crosses this line.

She injures Thomas in what is supposed to be a cute display of jealousy. And actively seeks out ways to infuriate and frustrate Artur for seemingly no reason other than she thinks it will be fun. She's thoughtless when it comes to Jonas, and even comes close to doing damage to him just to show how she's stronger than the average girl. It is even stated more than once that what the men usually get in response to their affections is a fist in the eye.

The result of this is that I honestly don't know what any of them see in her. The book insists that it's something, and I know that some men find abusive headcases attractive, but it just doesn't make any sense to me.

Compounding this is the issue mentioned above: the use of short-hand. There was clearly a book before this one in the series. If I had no other references, I would know this because all of the characters constantly reference that time they had to save Boston Harbor and that time that Fred got shot. Any explanation as to why either Thomas or Artur are interested in Fred must have happened in that book, because it does not happen here. There is no dramatic tension. She is “torn” between the two of them, except that she doesn't seem so much torn as wishy-washy and slightly sadistic. And they seem to want her in only the most cursory of ways. Mostly, they talk about it some. Artur tries being nice to her. They each say something about her being hot. That's about the extent of the romance plot. In addition (exclusion?), there also isn't any erotica to speak of, which at least would give the reader something in exchange for the lack of drama and character development. Jonas, of all people, gets the most action.

Whatever went on between these people that made them interesting, sympathetic, or sexy, it isn't actually going on in this book.

However, Swimming Without a Net isn't entirely unentertaining. King Mekkam, ruler of the Undersea Folk, made me laugh until I cried. His earnest attempts to fit in with what he believed to be biped culture were so outlandish that I was laughing out loud on the bus despite myself. It's a noteworthy accomplishment.

Those moments of laughter, though, are not enough to really make me recommend the book to others. Based on other reviews I've read, this seems to be Mary Janice Davidson's style, though. My impression was that most of her books are all about the snarky dialog and zippy plot, and they're light light light on anything else. Fans of her other work are likely to be fans of Swimming Without a Net, but I think other Paranormal Romance writers have a lot more to offer.

Lora Friedanthal

Swimming Without a Net (Fred the Mermaid, Book 2) by MaryJanice Davidson
Published by: Jove (November 27, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0515143812
ISBN-13: 978-0515143812
Genre: Fantasy

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