Dueling Review

Dueling Review: Wish Out of Water by Holley Trent (2022)

Hooked, Book #1

Holly’s Take

Heat Factor: The two sex scenes are pretty detailed, but there are only two of them

Character Chemistry: Her magic doesn’t suck his happiness away. It’s fate!

Plot: Cooper doesn’t want to be king, so he asks Brook to do a marriage of convenience with him. Apparently marrying an American means he automatically abdicates. (???) Plot twist: Brook is a mermaid and discovers she’s the real heir to the throne.

Overall: The pacing was off…it was like: solid start, slow, slow, slow, INTRIGUE!, denouement.

Ingrid’s Take

Heat Factor: It had moments of heat but was largely pretty mild.

Character Chemistry: They’re fated mates and I guess fated rulers.

Plot: He’s supposed to be king. She’s supposed to be a human nobody. But actually she’s a mermaid with royal lineage and it’s enough to throw everything into chaos.

Overall: It feels like a very long start to something and that didn’t actually develop into its cohesive, finished result.

Erin’s Take

Heat Factor: There’s a bit of dissonance between the perfection of their coming together and, like, everything else about their relationship. 

Character Chemistry: They’re basically fated mates.

Plot: She’s a nobody, except she just has no idea that she’s not a nobody, and he’s a bastard prince who grew up outside the kingdom but is somehow inheriting the throne because of Reasons, which she is supposed to fix but doesn’t.

Overall: I was extremely confused. Also this relationship contains most of the “I’m leaving now” drama that I actively dislike.

What’s one key piece of information you think a reader should know before getting Wish out of Water?

Holly: This book felt really long to me, but that could be because I have a cold and would take NyQuil and then try to read it. So it took me a couple of days to get through. The opening is really strong, but the middle was pretttttty slow.

Erin: I very much consider myself to be an “average reader” because I do not like literary analysis at all, but I do like to read and to think about what I read. These are my credentials. Ergo, the number of times I’d read something and then it would be unclearly contradicted later on made this book extremely challenging to read. I spent almost the entire book asking “WTF is going on?” And not in that “What mysterious but increasingly comprehensible worldbuilding!” kind of way, either. In the “I’m more confused now than I was before” kind of way.

Ingrid: Really, I think that the key information I’d share is that it’s a mermaid book but they don’t mermaid very much. It’s a romance but most of the character development seems to revolve around main-with-secondary character relationships. And it’s a fantasy world building book that seems to be focused on preparing for a series.

Holly: Also, it looks like the cover model for Cooper is the same guy who was the cover model for The Bittersweet Bride, and man oh man did I hate that character. I may have been predisposed to dislike Cooper because of this fact.

Brook spends almost no time in mermaid form; Cooper doesn’t find out she’s a mermaid until the very end, and never sees her tail. How does that fact square with this as a mermaid book?

Erin: Most of Brook’s problem is having to hide her identity, which is not significantly different from other paranormal fantasy in which the general public is unaware that there are other supernatural beings in the world. And the fact that Brook feels compelled to hide her identity provides a lot of the tension in the building relationship with Cooper. The way that the story is structured doesn’t make it significantly different from other fantasy romance stories in which a heroine is surprised by and must learn to use her previously unknown powers after being drawn into something thanks to having met a hero. I would like to appreciate the nod to The Little Mermaid at the beginning, when Cooper is captivated by Brook’s voice but can’t see her, but other than the fact that Brook is a mermaid and the ocean and boats are involved, the story seemed to me to be primarily a fantasy story that involves a paranormal mermaid as opposed to a dolphin shifter (or, frankly, any other kind of shifter).

Ingrid: I mean, it’s suggested Cooper has seen the security footage where Brook gets back on the boat with her tail. And I’m pretty sure he sees her fin at the end just by happenstance but a big deal is not made of it. I think if you look at this book as the start of a series it works a bit better—the way I saw it, the mermaid characters in the first book aren’t supposed to know much about who they really are, and it’s a hidden thing. But the mermaid factor in this specific book ultimately didn’t work fabulously since it ended up getting so lost in the weeds.

Holly: I thought this was really interesting. It absolutely makes sense that a different species, which evolved under different circumstances, would have different ways of seeing and thinking about the world. It was a really effective way of marking Brook as different without her spending a lot of time shifted into her mermaid form.

Erin: See, I would believe that it was about the different species aspect, except that at least 50% of the time she has absolutely zero idea about mermaid anything and also she’s, like, a super extra special mermaid. So is it actually “mermaid brain” or is she just a fantasy-typical, uneducated-about-her-own-powers, having-a-journey-of-self-discovery heroine? OR is it that she’s been trained for her entire life to fear being different so she’s hyperfocused on what she’s been told are unique to her heritage, so that’s what she’s constantly freaking out about? By the end, her most significant indicator of difference is her ability to magically emote, not her need to be emotionally checked by her siblings so she doesn’t behave oddly. I do think it’s a creative way to mark her as different without her constantly needing to shift, but I also think it would have been more effective if there had been a tighter focus on what makes her non-human because it’s muddied with her lack of knowledge, the emergence of her physical manifestations of magic, and her fears of being found out.

Ingrid: I’ll be honest, this is a connection that did not directly occur to me. I get it, but during the read it was really hard to tell what differences about herself she had thorough knowledge of and what she was only just discovering, and I got that her feelings caused temperature changes but it didn’t feel very plotted out in that way to me.

There’s a lot of mystery in this book. Do the reveals work for you? How do they impact the romance?

Holly: At the beginning, the mystery was really intriguing. Like, we know that Brook’s mom was a mermaid, but she died before telling Brook all the details about herself and mer-life. So I was right there with Brook and her frustration about the limits put on her life due to her circumstances, and wanting to figure herself out. I was intrigued and wanted to find out more!

However, once we got to the last chunk of the book and all of a sudden there was a lot of palace drama and stuff about the succession, it felt like there was way too much mystery to solve given the space left in the story. I was overwhelmed, rather than intrigued. (Note that not all of the succession plot is solved here; for that, we’ll have to wait for Book 2, which seems like it’ll have a lot more mer-action going on.)

Erin: Like Holly, I was prepared for a slow reveal, but also like Holly, I became a bit frustrated that the action was so heavily back-loaded (is that a term?). There are many dangling threads because a lot of them appeared for the first time after the 60% mark, and there’s simply not enough time to both build and resolve all the stuff going on. Like – attempting no spoilers here – there’s a lot of discussion of what they’re all doing about Brook’s realm at the end of the day, and they’ve decided what they’re doing about Cooper’s realm…but they don’t actually clarify how Brook’s antecedents are squared to make things right in Cooper’s realm? Definitely there will be some carryover to book 2, but typically the protagonists of book 1 are not large players in subsequent books, so I’m not sure how much Brook and Cooper’s outstanding question marks will be squared there.

No, I don’t think the reveals particularly worked for me, to answer the question.

Ingrid: I agree that the reveals didn’t work. I think if you’re going to have a book with such detailed world building, you can’t just drop a whole new thing into the reader’s lap so far into the book—you have to drop hints and eggs, and that just didn’t happen here. In fact, when I close a book like this, I always like to go back to who the characters were in the beginning and ask myself if I saw any of the end result coming. If the changes are too substantial, and there isn’t a clear path of intentional change leading to the end result, then there were likely some plot holes or under developed bits. And that’s exactly what I think happened here.

Holly: I didn’t really feel like I got enough mer-related worldbuilding for there to be consistencies (or lack thereof). This is actually a feature in pretty much all the books I read for this week, though: I have no idea what mer-society looks in any of these stories. 

Ingrid: It was like someone switched my recipe halfway through cooking a dish, honestly.

Elements of patriarchy and purity culture are liberally sprinkled throughout the book. How did this aspect of the worldbuilding / interpersonal relationships contribute (positively, negatively, or neutrally) to your reading of the story?

Erin: So, it started out relatively tamely with the notion that if Brook were to run into any kind of authority, they’d sense her magic and, like, abduct her to do science experiments or something. Reasonable. Ish. Which is why she runs away from Cooper at first. But then BOOM her older brother River is like a legit caveman, posturing and hollering and behaving in such a way that his sisters feel like he’s liable to assault people. (He doesn’t though.) I can do a little macho in my books depending on how they’re structured, but that was a HUGE turnoff for me. And we don’t get much from her other brother or father to even the scale, like, say, to treat Brook as a grown woman capable of her own decision making. AND THEN there’s this whole gender binary associated with both Cooper’s kingdom and with the merfolk that just…why? Why can’t Cooper’s sister be the monarch? And then if she can’t, why does her father snark later about “when she’s queen”? If we’re creating a whole new world, I don’t really want to reimagine a bunch of horrible old world stuff. I think the mer-kingdom disappearing is enough drama without adding gender stuff to the politics of it?

Ingrid: I didn’t go that deep, although it’s an interesting point. I did feel like there was a lot of posturing and griping without enough context to justify those attitudes and it made some of the characters I was meant to be rooting for difficult to get behind. I think there was a lot of that and I didn’t really pick up on patriarchal stuff because all the characters felt a little catty and I was perhaps distracted by that.

Was this a satisfying romance? Would you recommend it?

Holly: I liked a lot about this book, and would recommend it selectively to someone who was interested in settling in for a long, multi-book story about slowly remaking a monarchy or two. With that said, there were too many loose threads for me to really find this book satisfying on its own.

Erin: I was ready for the marriage of convenience relationship challenge and for the mysteries of Brook’s mother to create mayhem in what Brook and Cooper expected to be a straight-forward agreement, so early on, even when I was still confused about the world being revealed, I was enjoying the book. By the time things really started moving the world made less sense than when I started, and then the protagonists started doing that thing where they make assumptions about what the other’s thinking or feeling and spend more time apart than together. Given the external conflicts that needed to be overcome, I don’t think their relationship was served particularly well by physically distancing them, and I personally didn’t enjoy how things fell out.

Ingrid: I get the feeling that the subsequent books in this series might be really fantastic, actually. The set up was good for the series, but not for this book individually. 

Buy Now: Amazon

Looking for something similar?

Fated Mates

Long Lost Heirs

Imaginary Benevolent Monarchies

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