Ashes on the Waves
In ASHES ON THE WAVES, this novelized retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” author Mary Lindsey fills in the gaps of the famous poem with a gothic tale about the endurance of true love, even in the face of devastating obstacles.
Even though Annabel adorns the cover, our narrator is her lover, Liam MacGregor. He lives on an island called Dòchas, which is just a helicopter ride away from New York City, but completely isolated from modern civilization and immersed in Celtic and Irish folklore. While this does provide a way to set the story in the modern day and decorate it with the trappings of 19th-century England, it feels farfetched that such an island would really exist. Nevertheless, it creates a deliciously mysterious atmosphere with castle-like mansions, enchanted forests, shacks by the raging sea, village rituals and secret coves. All of this without the drag of cell phones. One plot point even depends on handwritten letters, which would become untenable in a world driven by instant communication.
"Although the lead characters still felt a bit vague by the end of the story, the gothic inflections to the atmosphere and references to real and rarely discussed mythological creatures may interest fans of paranormal romance and anyone looking for a moody beach read."
Liam seems to be a nice boy. He sketches, he reads, and he is a good worker. Yet most of the other inhabitants of Dòchas call him a demon because of the circumstances surrounding his birth. After Liam was born, his mother was discovered dead, her torso clawed open. The villagers speculated that Liam ripped his way out. As if that weren’t enough, he can’t move his left arm, and the villagers see this disability as yet another sign that evil has touched him. A woman named Francine took him in and allows him to live in her shed by the sea and work in her shop. She is good to him. Only one other person has ever been good to him.
When Anna Leighton was a small child, her wealthy family visited their mansion on the island. Anna and Liam spent the summer playing on the beach. He has thought about her ever since that summer, so when her family banishes her from New York for embarrassing them in front of New York high society, Anna and Liam are thrilled to be reconnected. Although Lindsey establishes that their deep connection began in childhood and held throughout all of these years apart, it would have been interesting to see Anna and Liam fall in love. The reader is asked to invest in their affection for each other based on their repeated professions of undying love, but it can be difficult to understand why they love each other so much.
Dòchas is home to several different types of creatures from Celtic and Irish folklore. The Bean Sidhes are fairy-like creatures that warn our protagonists of impending death and danger by wailing at them. While not the most specific of communication systems, the Bean Sidhes have Liam’s and Anna’s best interests at heart. The Na Fir Ghorm, however, are skeptical that two humans could share eternal love. They argue with the Bean Sidhes and propose a bet. The Bean Sidhes win if Liam and Anna stay together. The Na Fir Ghorm win if the lovers separate. To test their love, the Na Fir Ghorm plot to throw obstacles in the young lovers’ path. Whichever group loses the bet will have to leave the island forever. Since Dòchas is one of the last places in the world that still believes in either of them, this would be a weighty sacrifice.
Perhaps the aggressively cynical attitudes of the Na Firm Ghorm make sense, because their main action in mythological precedent has been luring sailors to their deaths. They are vaguely humanoid, but have blue skin, flat noses and fish tails, but they are not merpeople. They are also different from Selkies, but Selkies do dwell off of Dòchas as well. One of them, Muireann, has long admired Liam from afar. She will do what she can to save him from the Na Firm Ghorm, even though she knows that he would never leave Anna for her. Muireann actually likes Anna and says so, which subverts the far too common inter-girl competition trope.
While the story’s setting was magical and eerie, the writing style sometimes ejects the reader from that atmosphere. Liam’s speech is meant to sound old-world, since he grew up on an isolated island, but it comes off as stilted and full of thesaurus words. Anna tarnishes many a poignant moment by describing something unpleasant as “crappy.”
Lindsey ties her tale closely to those of Edgar Allan Poe by introducing each chapter with a quote by Poe that relates directly to the plot at that moment. This allows the Poe aficionado to draw parallels that may not have otherwise been obvious, gives the uninitiated a taste of Poe poems and tales and helps to set the book’s tone.
Although the lead characters still felt a bit vague by the end of the story, the gothic inflections to the atmosphere and references to real and rarely discussed mythological creatures may interest fans of paranormal romance and anyone looking for a moody beach read.
Reviewed by Caroline Osborn on June 28, 2013
Ashes on the Waves
- Publication Date: June 27, 2013
- Genres: Young Adult 12+
- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Philomel
- ISBN-10: 0399159398
- ISBN-13: 9780399159398