Review: Secrets of the Last Merfolk

The Christmas holidays are not looking promising for Finn (forced on a cabin break with his workaholic dad and irritating stepmum) and Sage (who’s trying to muster enthusiasm for another knitted present) but when they hear the eerie sound of singing and spot strange figures swimming in the icy sea – everything changes.

The children may face contrasting challenges at home, but they are bound together when they realise that they can both hear the mysterious song, and it seems that no one else can.

Questioning their hold on reality, Sage and Finn embark on an adventure which plunges them into life-threatening situations from which only the merchildren can save them – but the merfolk face a terrible threat themselves, and it’s up to Sage and Finn to step in.

While a separate story, this book has echoes of Lindsay Littleson’s earlier novel, The Guardians of the Wild Unicorns, in that it presents a mythical scenario with a modern, adventurous edge – and no sparkles in sight.

The author has a talent for describing magical creatures with a realism that renders them integral to the Scottish landscape. One of the most magical scenes describes the children and the young merfolk playing with a family of otters – and it feels right and natural that the otters are every bit as enchanting as their folkloric friends.

Finn and Sage are compelling and relatable characters who must draw on reserves of courage in their day-to-day lives as much as in their magical ones, and it’s heart-warming to watch their friendship evolve from a rocky beginning. Though the merchildren’s lives and looks may be different (and very different from mermaid tropes) the challenges they face communicating with their elders also have powerful parallels with the humans.

The Secrets of the Last Merfolk is exciting and action packed, and one of our favourite reads of the year. While it explores and embraces legend, it is also a reminder that we should appreciate our reality – and value the enchanting landscapes, wildlife, and people, that we do have.

Secrets of the Last Merfolk, by Lindsay Littleson (Kelpies)

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