St. Martin’s: 320 pp., $17.99, ages 12 and up
Amanda Hocking is self-publishing’s poster child. The 27-year-old is the rare example of an author who has found amazing success through various e-book retailers where, since 2010, she’s sold more than a million copies of her nine novels, optioned three of them for film and landed a $2-million publishing contract for a four-book series for young adults, the first of which is “Wake.”
As with her first self-published title, “My Blood Approves,” about a vampire love triangle, and her bestselling “Trylle Trilogy,” featuring beautiful trolls, the first book in the new Watersong series continues to bend classic mythologies into new paranormal story lines that have been transposed onto modern times.
“Wake” tells of 16-year-old Gemma, an aspiring Olympic swimmer duped into becoming a siren, or sea nymph. In classic mythology, sirens lure mariners to their death with seductive singing. But in “Wake,” the siren’s song works equally well on women as it does on men, enticing not only sailors but also swimmers such as Gemma who enjoy wading into the ocean at night.
Endowed with eternal youth, the sirens here are presented as the quintessential trio of high school mean girls — supermodel-esque on the outside and rotten to the core. Penn, Lexi and Thea are from Canada, supposedly, and are vacationing in the small seaside community of Capri, Md., for the summer. Gemma often spots them partying in the cove near her favorite swimming spot, finds them strange and has made a point of steering clear — until one night, when she hears them singing her name and swims over to join them.
She wakes up the next morning scratched, bruised, alone and wrapped in a gold fishing net, unable to remember any of the prior night’s goings-on.
It’s an extremely alluring concept that could, unfortunately, be better executed. Despite being a New York Times bestseller, Hocking’s writing is pedestrian — and she displays an amateurishness with plot details that aren’t fully developed and diversions that seem to take the action off course.
Since the sirens came to town, four teenage boys have gone missing — a situation that in most worlds, fictional or otherwise, would have a small town on lockdown. Not in “Wake,” where the sirens have so cast their spell that many of Capri’s men are routinely left agog in their wake, while others are entirely unaffected — even wary — for reasons that aren’t explained.
“Wake” isn’t a mystery so much as a paranormal romance, like Hocking’s earlier novels. So when Gemma isn’t sprouting a fish tail and swishing through the saltwater, she’s a seemingly regular teenager experiencing her first taste of what could very well be true love with her good-looking next-door neighbor, Alex. Being a siren, however, Gemma has been told she’ll never be loved for who she is — just for her beauty. Yet her siren powers are erratic when it comes to Alex, who is sometimes in a daze in Gemma’s presence and at other times acts completely normal.
Hocking leavens the story line with amusing details that underscore Gemma’s newfound sea-nymph status. She often discovers fish scales lodged in unusual places. When a makeout session causes Gemma to become as ravenously hungry as she is turned on, she accidentally bites her boyfriend like the maneater she’s destined to become.
The only thing Gemma enjoys about her new life as a siren is the sensation of swimming exhilaratingly fast. She longs to be human again, but the trio of sultry sirens have warned her she’ll die if she leaves them. Still, Gemma is determined to figure out how to extricate herself, a process that will likely take the remaining three books in this series to happen.
By Book 2, perhaps, the “Watersong” series will have hit its stride in a story that has its inconsistencies but is quite compelling.