cover image Sirena


Donna Jo Napoli. Scholastic, $15.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-590-38388-2

Like its mermaid heroine, this uneven novel is something of a hybrid: a romantic fantasy imposed atop a classical legend. A lengthy, even laborious set-up invents a genealogy for mermaids within Greek mythology (at least, this appears invented; there are no source notes). Offered immortality if they can win a man's love, Sirena's mermaid sisters use their silvery voices to lure sailors to them even though it will cause the sailors certain death. Sirena, however, exiles herself from this grim mating game and winds up on the island of Lemnos. There she meets the Greek warrior Philoctetes (the subject of a famous play by Sophocles). True to the legend, this Philoctetes has been abandoned by his crew mates because of a snake bite--but instead of spending the next 10 years letting his wounds fester, per the Sophoclean model, this hero falls in love with an equally adoring Sirena. She becomes immortal, a gift that she does not want in light of her lover's inability to share it, and then she must yield him up when fate calls upon him to reenter the Trojan War. Napoli (Song of the Magdalene) is at her best when she compares Philoctetes's and Sirena's points of view about subjects like honor, but the bulky apparatus she constructs overwhelms the writing. The atmosphere is surprisingly arid, and the language slides dangerously between the stuff of high drama and pulp romance. There are better romantic YA novels built on Greek myth (e.g., Doris Orgel's The Princess and the God); for mermaid lore see Mary Pope Osborne's Mermaid Stories from Around the World. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)