Review of Ashes on the Waves by Mary LindseyTo be published on June 27, 2013
Summary (from Goodreads:) 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 a wager 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.Buzzwords: Gothic romance, bean sidhes, selkies, Edgar Allan Poe.
My take: Ashes on the Waves offers up a heady blend of Gothic atmosphere and Celtic lore, a romantic, brooding tale of a pair of tragic lovers that is also a clever expansion on the Poe poem Annabel Lee.
Liam has grown up as an outcast on the remote island of Dòchas. An accident at his birth killed his mother and left one of his arms useless, so the villagers call him a demon. As a child, he played with heiress Annabel Leighton, daughter of the owners of Taibhreamh, a gloomy mansion by the sea. When Annabel returns to the island, she and Liam fall in love. This is one part of the story that may aggravate those allergic to insta-love. Annabel and Liam's friendship as children is definitely used as a way to put their romance on serious fast-forward in the present. They're definitely an odd couple -- she's a hip queen of the supermarket tabloids, a rich-girl-behaving-badly, while he's quiet and unassuming, with a quaint, Old World quality to his mannerisms and speech.
For this story to work, the reader has to accept the fact that Liam and Anna are madly in love. But it's easy to root for them, because everyone is against their relationship: Anna's parents, her creepy housekeeper, her friends, most of the village, and many of the weird paranormal creatures that lurk around the island -- Na Fir Ghorm, bean sidhes, and selkies.
There are other two main sources of tension in the plot: the mysterious disappearance of Annabel's uncle, and the fact that the Na Fir Ghorm and the bean sidhes make a wager about the strength of the couple's love and proceed to test them. But there's tons of other odd, atmospheric touches, like a selkie named Muireann -- an occasional POV character who pines for Liam from afar, the aforementioned creepy housekeeper (shades of Mrs. Danvers) and the backward, hardscrabble villagers.
Ashes on the Waves was a fun and original story that really kept me guessing. I'd read the poem and knew how it ended, but I was still surprised by many of the twists and turns the plot took. While I wouldn't call this a character-driven story, I would single out Liam as a unique and compelling character, the unlikeliest of dreamy book boys but one I think will appeal to a lot of readers. I found Annabel a little harder to get a grasp on.
If you love books that are brooding, tragic and romantic, you should definitely add Ashes on the Waves to your to-read list!