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Wednesday, March 4, 2020
BLOG TOUR: Mermaid Moon by Susann Cokal
Welcome to the Official Blog Tour for award-winning author Susann Cokal's Mermaid Moon. Today, on our tour stop, we have exclusive excerpts, a book trailer, AND a tour-wide giveaway to share! So... Be sure to check it out and grab your copy now! Follow the tour, HERE!
In the far northern reaches of civilization, a mermaid leaves the sea to look for her land-dwelling mother among people as desperate for magic and miracles as they are for life and love.
Blood calls to blood; charm calls to charm.
It is the way of the world.
Come close and tell us your dreams.
Sanna has been living as a mermaid — but she is only half seavish. The night of her birth, a sea-witch cast a spell that made Sanna’s people, including her landish mother, forget how and where she was born.
Now Sanna is sixteen and an outsider in the seavish flok where women rule and mothers mean everything. She is determined to go to land and learn who she is. So she apprentices herself to the ancient witch, Sjældent, to learn the magic of making and unmaking. With a new pair of legs and a mysterious quest to complete for her teacher, she follows a clue that leads her ashore on the Thirty-Seven Dark Islands.
Her fellow mermaids wait floating on the seaskin as Sanna stumbles into a wall of white roses thirsty for blood, a hardscrabble people hungry for miracles, and a baroness of fading beauty who will do anything to live forever, even at the expense of her own children.
From the author of the Michael L. Printz Honor Book The Kingdom of Little Wounds comes a gorgeously told tale of belonging, sacrifice, fear, hope, and mortality.
• Prologue •
When she knew her time had come, she slipped from the quiet of her father’s house to make her way down to the docks.
It wasn’t easy. The pains came fast and hard, even at the start. In the light of a half-made moon, she stumbled in the familiar ruts and puddles of the path she’d raced down many times before. Each pain was an ember blazing from her belly to the tips of her fingers and toes; pain blinded her and stole her breath. Only force of will kept her on her feet and stealing toward the waterfront, the one place she knew— or hoped— she’d be safe.
Her body was ripping apart. She was being drawn and quartered like the worst kind of criminal, a thief or a murderer whose limbs were tied to four different horses and the horses then spurred in different directions. Blood sport. Something to think about as she both gasped for breath and tried to keep silent, because the worst thing she could do now would be to make a sound loud enough to wake her neighbors. If things were as bad as she thought they might be, the villagers would come after her with torches and sharp-tipped hoes. Her parents, grudgingly kind as they had been to this point, would lead the charge.
Stars swaddled the sky while she sweated through her linen chemise and into her coarse wool dress. She fixed her eyes on that half pie of moon as her knees buckled under an especially terrible pang. She clutched her belly and pushed herself against the streaky wall of a butcher shop. It held her up as she smothered a groan. The butcher and his family slept above the shop; she shouldn’t wake them.
The smell of her blood mixed with ripe meat was nauseous.
Pain is thirsty work, even in a cool month when green things are just beginning to take on summer hues. She wished for a barrel full of rainwater but instead found a pebble to pop into her mouth, and she sucked to draw the water from inside her own body.
In all her eighteen years she had never felt so alone as tonight, under the thick white stars. But soon she wouldn’t be alone anymore. Soon she would have a baby.
A large— another rending pain— an enormous baby.
And that was about all she knew. She knew it was coming, yes, and she knew what she’d done to make it, and she knew she had to get down to the water fast because— because— because that was the only place she could birth this baby safely.
This would be a special baby. No one in memory had given life to a baby such as this. No one had dared.
By the time she reached the narrow strip of sand that was the only beach in this country of cliffs and caves, she was exhausted, crawling on hands and knees. Not easy to do with her belly heaving and her skirts, soaked with birthing waters, tied up beneath her arms. But she had no choice. This was where she had to be.
The tide was slowly swelling to meet the half-moon. The sharp blade of it was cutting her open and drawing her tides, too, as it sank gracefully toward the horizon.
Would her lover meet her here? Would he bring sisters and aunts and cousins to help, as he’d promised he’d try? His people had unusually keen hearing, but she had done her best to make no sound at all. They might find her by smell, though; she smelled like an animal, sweaty and afraid. And of course he’d warned that the women of his clan might not come. They disapproved of what he and she had done as much as her own people would, if they knew— and she was determined they wouldn’t.
The sand was cool against her palms and knees and shins. It felt like comfort. She let herself sink onto one side and press her temple against that yielding damp, breathe deep of the clean wet air. The lap-lap of the bay’s rising little waves was soothing, too; even the stars seemed gentle and kind, floating behind wispy drifts of cloud, now that she’d reached the place that was her entire plan.
She lay there, let the pain and the elements take her while she prayed. Holy Virgin, Empress of the Seas, have pity on a sinner . . . And: Bjarl, my love, please find me.
He did find her. First a wet head bobbed out among the waves— it could have been a seal. She didn’t even notice it at first, but then came the steady plash of water as he propelled his powerful body along. He was flicking and steering in a way that both fascinated and revolted— revolted because it might mark this baby, too, and what would she do then?
She moaned. It did not give as much release as she wanted, but it was all she could allow herself.
Soon Bjarl’s arms were around her, and the chilly skin of his chest was propping up her head. He had humped his way onto the sand where they used to make love. His hands somehow raised her knees and shifted them apart, though in a way very different from their old giddy nights. It was a position at once awkward and reassuring; in arranging her this way, Bjarl seemed expert, as if someone had trained him for precisely this moment. Maybe he was taught by a woman of his people— which might mean the women would not come to help at all.
She realized that Bjarl was pulling her from the sand into the shallows. The little kidney-shaped bay’s salt water bathed her most fevered parts, stinging where they were already starting to tear but otherwise soothing with coolness.
“It won’t be long,” he promised, pressing his lips to her brow. “Our babies come quickly.”
She wished he’d tell her that he loved her.
“I love you,” he said, as if he could hear her thoughts. She believed him. His people, the marreminder, claimed not to set much store by love, he had explained, because it was not something they could eat or hoard, and in their long, long lives they usually outgrew all emotion. But if Bjarl said he loved her, then surely he did.
She gasped out a few sounds to let him know she loved him too, and then she growled, because for a moment the pain became stronger than love.
In a lull she heard others surfacing, nearly silent splashes followed by snorts to clear waterlogged breathing passages in nose and neck. She heard palms digging into sand, bodies scraping over it. The women of his flok were here after all.
An old creature of vaguely female outline propped herself between her legs and studied them with the keen eye of one who sees in the dark. She slid her fingers inside (pain), feeling for the baby’s head.
“All as it should be,” she assured the parents‑in‑waiting.
A cloud drifted away from the half-moon, and a shaft of light revealed that old woman’s face— horrible, cracked, snaggle-toothed, and moldy— leering over her.
She recoiled and closed her eyes.
“Shh, beloved, the old one has powers,” Bjarl said.
The hideous crone cackled as if deliberately to frighten the poor girl, who had known nothing but her own village until the day she looked into the water and saw Bjarl looking back at her.
“Call me a witch,” said the crone, “if it comforts ye.”
The word was not a comfort, but she trusted in Bjarl’s choice of helpers. At this moment in her short, violent life, she had no one else— certainly no one who had shown her kindness.
The younger women set to work on her belly, rubbing it gently and singing to it in their trilling voices. One pair of hands circled her temples in a way that lifted much of her pain; another rubbed her scalp in a way that would have been pleasurable if not for the pain elsewhere; and of course Bjarl’s arms remained around her.
Oddly enough, at this moment, she felt more loved than at any other in her life.
“Tell me how we fell,” she whispered, delirious with suffering but still hoping he would understand her. “How we fell in love.”
She knew he was smiling; she felt his beard against her cheek, shedding water that sprinkled her neck with droplets.
“You were crouching on a rock,” he said, “and scrubbing linens against it. You were crying because your mother had been cruel to you that day. And I’d been fishing nearby when I felt your tears dropping into the waves, and I thought I’d never tasted anything so sweet. I swam up and looked at you through the waterskin, and you looked down and saw me. You were so astonished, you fell off the rock and into my arms.”
In spite of the pain, she smiled. It was her favorite story, and Bjarl told it a little differently each time she asked. The one part that remained constant was this: They fell in love.
“That afternoon I gave you a sea star and asked you to be mine,” Bjarl finished, so quiet she was almost certain his women could not hear him.
More cold water splashed against her split legs and mounded belly, even her face, from the old one’s hands. She was glad for the cold. She looked up again, blinking, and admired the iciness of stars and moon, forever fixed in the blue bowl of sky. Sometimes, in the months when the sun never set, the moon was visible along with it, waxing and waning according to its own wishes. Sometimes it shimmered in yellow-green streaks of light that (though familiar) seemed to promise some life beyond the one lived on this hardscrabble island.
“It’s time to push,” said the old woman, spreading the girl’s legs wide, as if to pull her apart like a chicken.
The wavelets hiss-hissed as they receded down the sand. It was a pleasant sound.
Bracing herself against Bjarl’s strong chest, surrounded by his people, she pushed.
Now, at last, she let herself scream as loudly as she wanted.
Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
• Chapter 1 •
To the list of events I never intended, it is time to add this: the first of the so‑called miracles that have made these Dark Islands famous on land and sea.
The miracle, as these people have named it, begins with my first step on a pebbly shore; it ends in a wall of flowers stained red. In one form or another, it becomes the stuff of song and legend and even, I’m told, an entry in the books written by monks and illustrated in paints made of ground stone and gold and beetle shells, to be kept among other such objects in a place called Rome.
My own people sing of it, naturally. Their songs focus on my bravery and cunning, but the truth is that I wasn’t brave or cunning at all— just lucky or unlucky, depending on how you view the events that followed.
This is how the songs go. I don’t need to point out that I never sing them myself.
Sanna the Lonely, Sanna the Meek—
She who was first to set foot on the land—
In the midst of their feast,
In savory and sweet,
Her body sang out the elements:
Air and earth and fire and time
Dyed themselves red in her blood.
Sanna the Clever, Sanna the Wise;
Sanna both Never and Always.
I don’t like what they call me, but who is ever entirely happy with a name given by others? And in any event, my names are not the worst exaggeration. The story grows and blooms as it passes each pair of lips, and soon the singers will have me slaying an empire and taking its wealth for my own.
I intend to narrate everything here exactly as it happened.
Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
Praise for MERMAID MOON
“Susann Cokal’s latest miracle, Mermaid Moon, springs from the tides where Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid once swam — and walked to land. But she delivers something even more rich and strange, and a mermaid heroine who will swim away with your heart.” —Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Egg & Spoon
“Cokal's moody and sea-drenched tale weaves touches of Hans Christian Andersen with a dash of Pied Piper, using language that gorgeously sets each scene, including the exceedingly creepy bone vault … Lyrical, complex, and occasionally dark.” —School Library Journal
“Cokal creates a well-developed matriarchal mermaid mythology in which women couple, bonded by love and respect, and men are largely unnecessary. Through several voices and richly detailed prose, these markedly different worlds overlap and diverge to impart a nuanced exploration of power, family, faith, and love.” —Publishers Weekly
“Mermaid Moon is an action-packed tale of parental abandonment, familial longing, treachery and dark magic with an appealingly determined heroine.” —BookPage
“A beautifully told, immersive story that layers fairy-tale elements with more modern themes, allowing for a different experience with every reread.” —Shelf Awareness
**About the Author**
Photo Content from Susann Cokal
Susann Cokal is a moody historical novelist, a pop-culture essayist, book critic, magazine editor, and sometime professor of creative writing and modern literature. She lives in a creepy old farmhouse in Richmond, Virginia, with seven cats, a dog, a spouse, and some peacocks that supposedly belong to a neighbor. She is the author of two books for young adults and two for regular adults.
Susann's previous book, The Kingdom of Little Wounds, received several national awards, including a silver medal from the American Library Association's Michael L. Printz Award series. It also got starred reviews in Kirkus, School Library Journal, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, and Publishers Weekly, and praise from Booklist, The New York Times Boook Review, and other venues. It was #3 on the Boston Globe list of best YAs of the 2013 and won an ALAN citation from the National Council of Teachers of English.
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- ends March 23, 2020
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