The Trident of Merrow by Amber Marshall and Kristopher Lewis (2011)
Toshala Flemmish has been waiting for her chance for years. A tomboyish steam mechanic, she has been beneath the notice of Germaine Billings since they were children. Today is different. Today, Tosh has a new dress, a new look, and will not be denied. Unless of course she’s kidnapped by pirates at the behest of a monster from her childhood nightmares. Now Tosh is getting the attention she’s wanted all along as her father sends Germaine in pursuit of the pirates. The race through the seas and skies begins, and unless she can escape, Tosh will be sacrificed to resurrect a demon god who will plunge the island nations of Aquan beneath the ocean.
Readers who enjoy their adventure stirred with some romance will find much to like in The Trident of Merrow. The story moves swiftly, following two separate crews: the Sea Drake, where Tosh is imprisoned by the pirate Jebediah Blud and a powerful Strega witch with an agenda, and the Gallows Jig, captained by Tosh’s childhood friend Germaine . From mutiny and sea monsters to airships and ancient rituals, The Trident of Merrow delivers action at a blistering pace.
The first pages immediately throw the reader into Tosh’s world: not just a mapping of the circumstances surrounding her current life but also a taste of the place she inhabits. She and her father live in Kingsport but their lives and trade revolve around the Shardsea. By the end of the chapter (it must be noted that the chapters are relatively short), Tosh’s adventure is already well underway. The action is instinctive. It sweeps the readers from the sea into the air; one can almost hear the John Williams soundtrack.
I liked how the magic elements were handled here. Ships employ a weather mage, with limited but useful abilities to calm huge waves or dispel a fog, but who can also appeal to and negotiate with various elementals to help them with more difficult tasks. I also enjoyed reading about the melding of magic and technology; at one point they even use it to create the Aquan equivalent of a missile.
Another interesting aspect of the story is its mythology. Aquan gods and goddesses are binaries: brothers and sisters are also rivals locked in battle. For instance, the Strega witches worship the Abyssal Lord Merrow as the god of the sea while sailors believe in Tryta, the Harlot Mother of Tides. I thought this framed the other binaries of the narrative quite nicely: magic and technology, the Gallows Jig and the Sea Drake, the Rozinante and the Colossus, Germaine and Massimo.
Unfortunately, Tosh is not as strong a character as she first appears to be. It’s evident that the authors tried to distance her from other literary damsels in distress by making her useful and allowing her attempts to rescue herself from her captors (she’s a steam mechanic, with life skills that come in handy once in a while). But there’s something about her that just falls short of being a compelling and relatable lead. It seemed rather unfortunate that the story’s main conflict revolved around Tosh and Massimo when they could be counted among the weaker characters.
However, that doesn’t diminish the impact of the other characters in the story. The Brinhold twins, Brion and Gage, are colorful members of the team who present interesting perspectives. Their backstory alone paints an intriguing culture and dynamic that I hope can be further explored should the authors choose to expand the book into a series. There is also Ama, the resident Manic Pixie Girl-type, an endearing addition to the story even if she only appears in the latter half of the book. Even Germaine, the knight errant, has moments of conflict and introspection, which surprised me because I had expected him to be a one-dimensional character. They might all fill certain stock roles, but they evade the predictability of their tropes just enough to ensure that the story remains memorable.
Despite the non-stop adventure, readers are constantly reminded that The Trident of Merrow is also a romance. In fact, it ends with a realization on Tosh’s behalf regarding the nature of love: not as a rosy-colored, sugar-coated fantasy [but]… seeing someone at their worst, a filthy keening animal. Wise words, but when concluded by someone whose own romance unfolds like the nautical equivalent of the Stockholm Syndrome, it just doesn’t deliver the desired impact. It’s actually the romances in the story that prevent me from fully enjoying the story; sometimes it can get cloying, other times just plain confusing.
Though The Trident of Merrow winds down to a predictable conclusion (the final confrontation with the Big Bad seems almost anti-climactic), there are a lot of moments in the journey that are exhilarating. Young adult readers will enjoy this alternative to the sword-and-sorcery medieval fantasy, and even older ones won’t regret a brief afternoon spent lost among the waves of the Shardsea.
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