Ashes on The Waves
by Mary Lindsey
Genre: YA Fantasy, Paranormal, Gothic
Source: Gift from my amazing husband, who knows there is nothing more romantic than Annabel Lee
Liam MacGregor is cursed. Haunted by the wails of fantastical Bean Sidhes and labeled a demon by the villagers of Dòchas, Liam has accepted that things will never get better for him—until a wealthy heiress named Annabel Leighton arrives on the island and Liam’s fate is changed forever.
With Anna, Liam finally finds the happiness he has always been denied; but, the violent, mythical Otherworlders, who inhabit the island and the sea around it, have other plans. They make awager on the couple’s love, testing its strength through a series of cruel obstacles. But the tragedies draw Liam and Anna even closer. Frustrated, the creatures put the couple through one last trial—and this time it’s not only their love that’s in danger of being destroyed.
Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s chilling poem, “Annabel Lee,” Mary Lindsey creates a frighteningly beautiful gothic novel that glorifies the power of true love.
I didn’t think it possible, but this book actually exceeded my expectations. The expectations of a hopeless romantic goth girl poetess, mind you. So they were exponentially high. A book based on one of the best (and definitely the most romantic) poems ever written? I had to have it. Add on the ridiculous gorgeousness of the cover? No question.
I think the author took just the right amount of liberties with Poe’s ideas, not just Annabel Lee, but a number of Poe’s works. A Poe quote accompanies each chapter and sets the tone for the events that unfold. Lindsey understands well Poe’s use of setting as almost a character itself, and the choice of Dochas, a remote island off the coast of Maine, free of modern conveniences like electricity and full of superstition and prejudice, is perfect. Even though these events technically unfold in a contemporary setting, the book has a definite old-world feel, and the contrast is superb.
Annabel (called Anna in the novel) is herself a member of the modern world, and understandably bewildered and horrified by the ways of the villagers of Dochas. A place where “husband throw their wives off of cliffs and no one does anything about it”. She is a breath of fresh air, with no tolerance for injustice or superstition. At first I expected Anna to be more of an archetype than a person, a flesh incarnation of the narrator Liam’s fantasy, but I am so glad that she turned out to be a real, authentic person in her own right. Liam, on the other hand, is a tragic victim of circumstance. He suffers paralysis of the left arm in a place where his disability is seen as a symptom of demonic possession, and he never questions this assertion. His childhood friendship with Anna was the one bright spot in his life, and he clings to it ever after, until the day the ne’er-do-well heiress is exiled to the island and long-ago friendship ignites into love.
I was also expecting insta-love (which I don’t have a problem with, as a general rule. I’ve experienced love at first sight) but I appreciated that the author let the relationship develop in its own time. It was fast and intense, but it was easy to understand the motivation behind the emotion. Anna is the affection and escape Liam has never allowed himself to wish for, and Liam cares for and respects Anna in a way no one else in her life ever has. But their budding romance is overshadowed by the villagers’ hatred of Liam, and by the supernatural creatures who hold dominion over Dochas: the Bean Sidhes, whose warning screams of murder interrupt the young lovers’ embraces, and the Na Fir Ghorm, whose malevolent tricks and beckonings serve to stir the villagers’ hatred ever more. The two competing groups make a wager on the strength of the couple’s love, with devastating consequences.
Sometimes-narrator Muireean, the young selkie whose selfless love for Liam leads her to try to help the couple, provides the comic relief, as she marvels at the strangeness of humans and human form. Her breezy narrative was a striking contrast to Liam’s intense, tortured narration. I never felt that Liam was over-the-top or too emotional – indeed, it was refreshing to see a male character embrace his feelings. Considering what a misery his life was, he could have been even more dramatic than he was. I especially appreciated how the author was realistic about his disability. I’m disabled myself so I can tell she did her research. When Liam descends a ladder while holding a candle, the difficulty with which this is done is touched upon, rather than skirted over. Liam has rudimentary assistive devices in his home and place of employment as well, which made his condition much more realistic.
The author uses every line of the poem, and the story unfolds with a pervasive sense of dread, even through lighter moments. As readers, we know what is coming and that it cannot be stopped. The addition of a mystery or two served to ratchet up the tension even more. The ending is tragic and beautiful, and allows for multiple interpretations. This is just as it should be, in my opinion, and I think Mr. Poe would be pleased.