At one point, Kiera Cass seemed to be an up-and-coming force in the YA world. When the Selection series was still a thing, I recalled a few people talking about them and I myself enjoyed them, in spite of their cliches and flaws.
And so, when I first found The Siren, I was intrigued seeing Kiera Cass’s name attached to such a simple, evocative title. But the story of an ocean girl doomed to love a man on land sounded as bland and cliche a mermaid story as they come. And yet, with what few choices my library had on hand, I grit my teeth and began reading.
Kahlen was nineteen years old when she and her family drowned in a shipwreck. Only Kahlen didn’t die. The Ocean spoke to her and saved her, transforming Kahlen into a Siren, a creature whose magical voice lures humans to drown. The Ocean selects a select number of dead girls to serve her for one hundred years before allowing them to have a new life on land. Nothing is supposed to swerve Kahlen and her sisters’ devotion to the Ocean. That includes when Kahlen finds love with a human man named Akinli.
Like I said, that’s as bland and unoriginal a mermaid story as you can get. Indeed, it is a familiar tale of two star-crossed lovers fighting to be together, especially a human man and a mythical ocean girl. Hence why I was initially hesitant to pick up the book.
To this book’s credit, however, there is far more to the story than Kahlen lusting after Akinli (looking at you, Alexandra Adornetto, with your horny, one-track-mind teenage angels).
A good chunk of the book explores Kahlen’s strained relationships with her Siren sisters and the Ocean. Kahlen hates how she has to spend one hundred years feeding drowned souls to the Ocean, so she commemorates as many of their memories as she can in a scrapbook. She knows the Ocean loves her, but cannot help feeling like a dog on a leash.
Most straining of all is that she cannot speak to any humans, because one word from her Siren lips will make them drown themselves. The Sirens move all around the world to isolated oceanside locations where no humans can hear them, so they only have each other for company. It’s an isolating life for Kahlen, on top of feeling like she is losing her bond with the Ocean.
There’s also some exploration into the life of a Siren: how they come to be, what happens when an old sister leaves the group, and when a new one takes her place. We see an old Siren, Aisling, reflect on her time serving the Ocean, and the plans she has for when her life begins again. We see a new Siren, Padma, struggle to adapt and try very hard to fit in with the group.
In short, the relationships between the Sirens are the most compelling aspects of the book. Kahlen’s depression and isolation ring true and you feel sorry for her predicament. It makes creatures that myth has painted as complete monsters into dimensional people just trying their best every day.
Dare I say, they were way more compelling than the scenes between Kahlen and Akinli. And yes, that is his name, and it’s one of the weirdest name choices I’ve ever seen.
I will say: the way Kahlen connects with Akinli is pretty sweet. Akinli makes an honest effort to understand and bond with Kahlen although she can only use writing and sign language to communiate. It allows Kahlen a sense of stability and home that she does not always feel with her sisters.
Except, Akinli is a bit of a boring love interest.
He feels like the typical good guy YA character who has a pretty face and chiseled body and is oh so kind to absolutely everyone. He has no flaws to speak of, except that he is bad at cooking. It’s a nice attempt at dimension, but it doesn’t make him any more interesting.
He does have a tragic backstory with his parents’ deaths, which he and Kahlen bond over, but again, it doesn’t add much dimension.
Kahlen mentions at one point that Akinli is not perfect, but I cannot help but roll my eyes at that. What flaws does Akinli have, Kahlen? I’m more than ready to listen to them.
And his dialogue. LORD, is it corny. It singlehandedly cancels out whatever Kiera Cass used to give him character. I.E, “I’ve waited an eternity for that kiss,” or “I’ve been dreaming of that sound,” or “Where did you come from, you sweet, silent girl?” (That last one was spoken when Akinli found Kahlen sleeping, for context).
And seeing as this is a YA romance, there is some romantic bullshit that even a self-proclaimed romance lover has to point out.
It becomes apparent that Kahlen and Akinli’s souls are connected somehow, and the only way to save one another is to be together, even after they’ve only spent a couple of days together. It’s another instance of “only an act of true love can save the protagonists” and it is unbelievably corny, no matter how seriously the characters take it.
The characters also point out how astounding it is that a short romance can run so deep, and I did not quite buy into it. I think two people can definitely feel a connection in that time, but a real connection happens through time spent together and time spent understanding and processing your feelings for someone.
Then again, I am a twenty-something talking about romance making complete sense in a Kiera Cass YA fantasy. What place do I have trying to add to that conversation?
And it’s not like everything Kahlen does makes perfect sense, either. There is a brief scene where, in a magical bout of forgetfulness, she sleeps with a bottle of the Ocean’s water like it’s a stuffed animal. What grown woman does that?
This book is far from the best I’ve ever read, though I have definitely read worse. Kiera Cass handles Kahlen’s character pretty well, but she happened to get a boring love interest and some “only true love can save you” bullcrap. For a book exploring isolation and alienation, it should not have stooped to such a cliche as that. One can almost see it coming before they even crack the spine.