The Black Tail – Back Cover Book Review

Odysseus and Jason of the Argonauts are not the only heroes to know the Siren Song.  In an action-packed new fantasy-romance saga, The Black Tail sings from the pages of Homer and Ovid to unveil the secrets of Greek mythology’s elusive sirens: the Harpyrai, winged angels of the skies and Nereids, fish-tailed nymphs of the seas.  Seductive yet dangerous, the deeper the reader gets into The Black Tail, the higher the stakes.

Erostes is a sixteen-year old human girl struggling to survive in a monstrous world overrun by rival factions of harpies and mermaids. On the mystical islands of Sirenum Scopuli, Erostes leads a restricted life as orphan-slave to three abusive harpies. Scarred, underfed, and constantly fearful for her life, she suffers their corrupting touch unquestioningly by day… and dreams of something more by night.

One day, a handsome stranger shows up. Claiming to know her, he abducts her.  He is the merman Triton in disguise, and for some reason, he believes she is a runaway mermaid he was sent to recover. He turns her into a mermaid and brings her to the bottom of the Stygian Sea as his prisoner. The rulers of the underworld try Erostes for her “crimes” and sentence her to three sacrificial labors in a public bid to make an example of her throughout the mermaid world and end her life.

Vows become a central obsession for characters in the Black Tail. A vow is like a soul contract. Triton believes he is punishing Erostes for promising a false oath. He enforces the law with the vengeance of Uriel. Erostes has to atone for breaking a vow with the tenacity of Hercules. Sirens become monsters, making hard decisions under duress, and relationships are put to the test. This is a source of recurring hell for all characters involved.

Underwater, Erostes has little command over her strange new body. To add salt to wounds, the vengeful merman is her constant tormentor. Completely out of her depth, her will to live wanes as the odds are stacked against her.  Erostes has to seize a human ship full of loot en route to Sirenum Scopuli (battling human pirates and then flying harpies).  If she manages this, she must then steer the ship with its precious cargo past a narrow lane flanked on one side by the Crushing Rocks, and on the other by six-headed monster Scylla and giant whirlpool Charybis.  Afterwards (if there is an afterwards), she must head to the altar on the Strophades Islands to offer the loot in exchange for a favor from the Goddess Isis: a day-long rainbow over the Stygian Sea. Even if she survives the classic air-to-sea battle that will surely ensue in this harpie-infested territory, Erostes does not believe in the existence of gods or diving intervention.  The sirens of the underworld clearly expect her to die.

Realizing she has been a victim of mistaken identity, Erostes is faced with the universal Catch-22 damned-if-I-do, damned-if-I-don’t dilemma.  If she reveals that she is nothing but an ordinary human, she will be killed just for learning about the existence of the mermaids.  If she does not, she faces inhuman ordeals that will result in her untimely death anyway. Tensions run high as this lose-lose motif informs Erostes’ motivational structures and drive the key action sequences of The Black Tail, because it often forces her into fight-or-flight modes.

Triton follows her every move, acting under orders to ensure she does not escape and to kill her if she aborts any of her labors.  As Erostes pushes forward with her labors, she unwillingly finds herself falling in love with her vicious abductor. She feels increasingly guilty for lying to him.  Her helpless attraction to such a dangerous predator is confusing. She vacillates between preserving her human instincts to escape intact, and her desire to become the monstrous siren capable of deception and destruction.

As she comes to terms with her new life underwater, Erostes starts getting dreams of her doppelgänger.  The real siren who has switched places with her has experienced a major setback in the world of humans above, and plans to exact revenge of epic proportions. Erostes is convinced that this isn’t just a dream, but a live connection to the innermost thoughts of a siren who must be the missing clue to her own parentage. If Erostes survives, she must decide between revealing her real identity and losing any prospects of living with the merman she loves, or wearing the mask of someone else and leaving the human world to its demise.  How can anything possibly turn out well for her?

The Black Tail is not a simple morality tale for young adults. The siren species that pervade this storyworld are complicated chimeras, made of different parts. There isn’t a clear distinction between the good heroine and the evil villain.  Jungian in nature, these chimeras have light and shadows. What makes their play-by-play interesting is that their dualities make for highly-strung characters and decidedly outrageous dialogue. The reader will enjoy deciding which side is more seductive. Each chimera finds catch-22 situations and keeping and breaking vows deliberately confusing.

Ultimately, The Black Tail is a story about sirens’ survival; they survive through means of seduction. The timeline of this story-world is punctuated by epic battle-scenes in a foreboding story-world. With seduction as key in the structure of all fight scenes, Sirens in the Black Tail are the like the MacGyver‘s of seduction.

Reminiscent of awe-inspiring stories from Greek mythology, such as The Abduction of Persephone, Hercules’ Labours, Cupid and Psyche, Castor and Pollux, and the Minotaur, the Black Tail invites the reader to fall for familiar sirens and monsters in a whole new way. In an epic quest to endure, the heroine will inspire with her capacity for startling transformations and originality.

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