Samantha Stone and the Mermaid's Quest
doesn't exactly raise expectations going in. The cover art is GIS Syndrome
in action, the chapter headings often occur mid-page, and the title is bland. But inside is a surprisingly fun, if very strange, book.
The book does a good job of creating a sense of setting and atmosphere, most of the time. You get to know Samantha well and care about her while she lives at home with her single mother, then when she's sent to live with her seafaring father, and finally when she lands in the world of Aerynon and learns about a prophecy that she doesn't particularly care for. Each location is set up very well, and Samantha's emotions during each major change to her life are described believably.
However, the book turns to action near the end, and suddenly, it doesn't have time to focus on emotions, as it switches to mostly just telling you what happens. The action, though, has its clever moments. Samantha unlocks a power in herself that she'd been training to learn how to use, and puts that power to some clever uses. I won't spoil it, but there are some genuine surprises in the story and some unique moments.
What makes the book so strange is some very unexpected design choices. The world is fantasy, but there are sci-fi elements, such as pseudo light-saber-esque weapons being used by characters in Aerynon to fight off evil. The villain has his quirky side, such as his pride and his multiple paintings of himself, but he's also cruel enough to order the death of a child who displeases him. There is a Lemony Narrator
who even lampshades
some elements of the story, such as pointing out that certain named villains will be important later, but who later stops being Lemony about halfway through.
One thing I wish the book had done, would be to spend more time on the world of Aerynon itself, letting Samantha explore. When she arrives, the place is under siege, and she's quickly put into hiding. While we get to empathize with Samantha as she's in hiding and living with the rebels, I would have liked to have seen at least one moment where she gets to really explore and get to know the world.
But overall, despite some bizarre design decisions and some odd flaws, I really like this book. It's different, and what it does right, I feel it does very well.