January Book Review: The Siren by Kiera Cass

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The Siren

By: Kiera Cass ( @partylikeawordstar )

Release Date: January 26th 2016

*Beware: Spoilers ahead!*

Official Synopsis:

Love is a risk worth taking.

Years ago, Kahlen was rescued from drowning by the Ocean.  To repay her debt, she has served as a Siren ever since, using her voice to lure countless strangers to their deaths.  Though a single word from Kahlen can kill, she can’t resist spending her days on land, watching ordinary people and longing for the day when she will be able to speak and laugh and live freely among them again. 

Kahlen is resigned to finishing her sentence in solitude…until she meets Akinli.  Handsome, caring, and kind, Akinli is everything Kahlen ever dreamed of.  And though she can’t talk to him, they soon forge a connection neither of them can deny…and Kahlen doesn’t want to.

Falling in love with a human breaks all the Ocean’s rules, and if the Ocean discovers Kahlen’s feelings, she’ll be forced to leave Akinli for good.  But for the first time in a lifetime of following rules, Kahlen is determined to follow her heart.


My synopsis:

You don’t get to choose your soulmate.

Kahlen should’ve drowned eighty years ago.  Instead she was saved by the Ocean, agreeing to serve as a Siren and use her singing to drown innocent strangers to keep Her fed.  To escape the reality of her life, Kahlen spends her time among humans, watching and learning, keeping silent to avoid yet another death as she waits for the day when she can return to a human life.

Kahlen’s isolated sentence is interrupted when she meets Akinli.  Goofy, handsome, and sweet, Akinli sees past Kahlen’s beauty and silence and strikes up a friendship.  It’s the first real connection Kahlen has had outside of her siren life, and she quickly finds herself falling for this boy who makes her feel more alive than ever before but who she knows she can never be with.

Sirens are forbidden from falling in love, and Kahlen is forced to keep her feelings for Akinli a secret at the risk of never seeing him again…or worse.  But Kahlen has followed someone else’s rules her entire life, and for once, she’s determined to follow her heart.


My Thoughts:

After the success of The Selection series, the lovely Kiera Cass  (@partylikeawordstar) was given the chance to formally publish her debut novel.

Unless you’re J.K. Rowling or Harper Lee, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want a second chance at their first release, making edits and tweaking a few things now that they’ve got a few more years of experience under their belt.
That’s what happened for Kiera Cass, and thus, the world was introduced to the newer, better version of The Siren.

Well, I say better.  It’s not as if I’ve read the original version, but Kiera seems rather pleased with the update, so I can’t help but believe that it’s better.  And really, why would you believe it’s not?  At its core, The Siren is a story about love: the love of life, the love between sisters, the love between a mother and her child, and the love between a boy and a girl.  Add in an interesting take on siren mythology, and you’ve got yourself a sweet book.

That’s sweet as in makes you go “Aww!”  Really, that’s the best word to describe this book.  In spite of having a main character who was depressed for approximately 85% of the book and some musically-induced suicides—these are sirens, remember—I walked away from this with the warm fuzzies and a smile on my face.  Was it the same kind of warm fuzzies I had after finishing The One?  No, but I had three books to fall in love with America and Maxon, whereas the love interest here was in less than a handful of scenes.

Huh?

You read that right.  But let’s start at the top.

Kahlen was first introduced on the night she died.  Well, sort of.  She ought to have died, but she was saved at the last second by a trio of beautiful girls who gave her an interesting choice: join her mother and drown or join them and become a siren.

You’d think it would be a no-brainer, but once you realize what being a siren entails, you may change your mind.

I loved the siren mythos developed here.  Bits and pieces were introduced as the story progressed—the reason for the sirens’ singing, their connection with the Ocean (AKA Her), what happened once their debt was paid—and then there was an info-dump at the end.  The dump was handled well, though, feeling more like a genuine history lesson rather than a sort of “well, I came up with all this other background information on sirens, better throw it in now.”  The best part was finding out that the sirens’ song was literally toxic.  Okay, maybe it’s not the best, but it was terrifying and awesome.  Overall, the mythology was unique.  There aren’t a lot of other books today that feature sirens, so even though there were a few points I would’ve liked clarified, I think Kiera really pulled this off.

So who were the sirens?  The one of most import was Kahlen, who was turned into a siren eighty years before.  As I mentioned, Kahlen spent most of the book dealing with depression, but it was completely realistic.  She’d spent the past eight decades avoiding humanity as much as possible, forbidden to speak in the presence of a human lest her voice make them drown themselves in the nearest water source.  She’d lost her birth family, she’d lost other siren sisters as they returned to the human world and had their memories wiped, and she’d been forced to sing people to their deaths.

I’d be depressed, too.

While it may seem that Kahlen would have consequently been a depressing character, she was actually very loving and supportive.  She liked to sketch, she knew how to jitterbug, and she was pretty good at cooking.  The reader definitely got a strong sense of who Kahlen was and how she dealt with her existence as a siren, which resulted in a lot of self-reflection both for her and the reader.

Kahlen’s situation posed a lot of important questions: Would you save your own life it if meant taking other innocent lives later?  Are a few lives lost worth the salvation of many?  Does telling someone to cheer up ever actually help them feel better?  (The answer to that last one is no, by the way.)

Unfortunately, Kahlen was the only siren concerned with these bigger issues.  The other sirens—Miaka, Elizabeth, and, later, Padma—were much more, well, content with their fate, uncomfortable with the blood on their hands but willing to ignore that for the opportunities to travel and create and flirt and enjoy their longevity.  While I did like the other girls, I thought they could’ve been more fleshed out.  Each of them felt like a standard stock character: Miaka the artist, Elizabeth the rebel, and Padma the new girl.  Even Aisling, before she regained her humanity, was the stereotypical mentor/wise one, although her secret family did give her a bit more personality.  It’s not that I disliked any of the girls, but I felt that with a little more work, I could’ve liked them more.

That being said, I did like the sisterly relationship between the sirens.  Like real sisters, they had their ups and downs, their secrets and their desires and their fights, but ultimately, they supported one another.  Each of the other girls tried to help Kahlen deal with her depression, some more effectively than others, even going as far as to sneak away to spy on her mysterious crush.  And they all rallied around Kahlen at the end, working tirelessly to find a cure and keep her updated on everything. 

I also liked that each of the girls reflected the time periods and cultures they’d lived in before being rescued.  Kahlen was quiet and reserved, hoping to find love like any girl in the 1930s expecting to be married off as her parents wished.  The 60s culture was alive and well in Elizabeth, who embraced free love through countless one-night stands and always set out to prove that she was above anyone’s expectations of her.  Miaka was afraid of the water, but, born into a family of fisherman, was forced onto a boat, leading to her death.  And Padma, murdered by her father for being a girl in a male-dominated society, was tormented by her past until she was able to get revenge and keep her father from ever hurting anyone else.  The girls’ backgrounds heavily influenced their personalities even once they were transformed, and they further influenced how they dealt with their life as a siren, resulting in four very contrasting characters.

The references to the past were something else I enjoyed.  Past events, fashions, and trends were all mentioned, and they helped establish how long the girls had been around while also providing some cute moments.  That jitterbug scene, for instance, was absolutely adorable. 

And speaking of being around for a while, I loved that the Ocean Herself was a sentient character.  Even though I think it was an obvious choice—having the sirens serve an ocean who was just plain ol’ water would’ve been a convoluted way to develop the mythos—but it was still totally unique to me.  Frankly, I wanted to hate Her for what She made Her sirens do, but it was clear in Her relationship with Kahlen and, at the end, with the other girls that She truly cared for them.  It may have been a different sort of caring, since She didn’t experience life the same way as humans or sirens did, but it was caring nonetheless.  She hated forcing Her sirens to kill, but She had to be fed, and it was better for everyone if She had someone to help Her rather than using tsunamis and hurricanes and the like to do it Herself. 

The relationship between the Ocean and the sirens was a complicated thing, and it was very reflective of the Ocean’s nature—calm one minute and stormy the next, supportive but oppressive, and a bit overwhelming if examined too closely.  I won’t pretend to really understand the Ocean and all Her motives, but in the end, She made it very clear that She just wanted someone to love Her, and I was glad that Her relationship with the remaining sirens would be one of understanding and true affection thanks to Kahlen.

And finally, let’s talk about Akinli, the one who changed Kahlen’s life forever.  I liked this guy from the start.  He was goofy and sweet and easy-going, and he didn’t just see Kahlen as some beautiful girl.  He saw a girl that looked like she needed a friend, and he happily volunteered.  Even when he found out that Kahlen couldn’t speak—to him, at least—he just shrugged it off and found a way for them to communicate.  To someone who’d been pretty isolated for eighty years, Akinli was a dream come true. 

Which he really was, since he was Kahlen’s soulmate.

Now, I’m not going to get started on the odds of a siren finding her soulmate.  They’re slim.  Very slim.  But it happened for Ariel, too, in a similar situation, so maybe they’re a little better than I’d guess.

Regardless, Kahlen and Akinli fell for one another pretty quickly, quick enough to be labeled insta-love.  But after their first date, their romance took a very different path than most insta-love couples.  Kahlen was well aware that it was too dangerous for her to stay.  She considered it for all of ten seconds before going “nope!” and making the other sirens move to avoid the temptation to see him again.  While I felt really bad for Kahlen, I also really appreciated her levelheadedness about the whole situation.  She may have looked like a teenager, but she’d had a long time to determine what she was and wasn’t capable of, and once she knew she wouldn’t be able to stay away from Akinli and that it would put everyone in danger, she made herself leave.  It was a tough choice, but it was the right one, and so while it may technically have been insta-love, there was a level of rationality to things that isn’t normally seen with this type of relationship. 

But when things went south after a singing—which was a horrifying scene, by the way, and of course it would be a wedding cruise—Kahlen headed north and found Akinli again.  Akinli’s easy-going nature really stuck out here, as he just took Kahlen’s appearance in stride, and although he knew something was weird about her and her situation, he treated her as if nothing had changed.  The day they spent together was adorable, although it was obvious that something was going to go wrong.  I wasn’t expecting Akinli’s near-death experience, though, or Kahlen’s punishment afterwards.  Talk about harsh.

Akinli was physically really only in a few scenes, far less than any other love interest I can think of, but he was still present on almost every page.  Kahlen couldn’t stop thinking about him, and her feelings for him changed her whole view of her siren life.  Not that she liked things before, but after that it was torture.  Kahlen’s reactions to some things did seem a bit dramatic, but overall, I thought she was pretty justified.  And I really liked that this was a story about a girl falling in love without a lot of actual romance.  Kahlen being separated from Akinli allowed the narration to focus more on her emotions and her other relationships as they shifted to incorporate her feelings for him.

And shift they did, as in the end, being separated was literally killing both Kahlen and Akinli.  Because of Kahlen’s unique connection with the Ocean, She and the other sirens were able to truly see the depth of Kahlen’s love for Akinli, and they worked together to reunite the pair.  I liked that Kahlen’s sickness brought everyone closer together, and I was very glad that there wasn’t some twist that allowed Kahlen to keep her memories once she was changed back into a human.  It would’ve made her seem like even more of a special snowflake, and anyway, she had Akinli to help remind her of the girl she’d been—at least as far as he knew—and to help her make new memories.  I loved how Julie and Ben unquestioningly welcomed Kahlen into their home and their hearts.  They were the perfect family for Kahlen, and it was easy to see that they already loved her for loving Akinli.  And the water bottle that the sirens left for Kahlen!  It probably seemed so random, but Kahlen could sense it was special, and I liked knowing that she would always have a connection to her sisters and to Her, even if she didn’t remember them.

So like I said, The Siren was sweet, thanks to the sweetness of the love between Kahlen and Akinli.  Yes, there were some intense moments, some hard questions, and some even harder choices, but overall, this story is one that makes you want to believe in the magic of love and the mysterious connection that forms when you finally meet the one.

Ha, see what I did there?

But in all seriousness, I liked this book.  An interesting mythology, unique albeit somewhat flat characters, and a happily ever after—not perfect but a good lazy Sunday afternoon read.  Knowing this was Kiera’s first book, you can see how she’s grown as a writer from here through The Selection series, but it’s still a solid debut.  And while I know it’s a standalone, I wouldn’t mind a few short stories here and there that peek in on the remaining sirens or on Kahlen and Akinli as they grow older.  The world of The Siren certainly made me believe in my chances of finding my own happily ever after, although I may avoid a honeymoon cruise once I’ve found it.


Favorite Lines:

  • It’s funny what you hold on to, the things you remember when everything ends.
  • “I gave up understanding how young people dance about thirty years ago.  The Electric Slide was the final nail in the coffin for me.”
  • She told me to live…I didn’t know how to tell her that simply being alive was not enough to be called living.
  • I couldn’t be in love.  I murdered love every time I sang.
  • Books were a safe place, a world apart from my own.  No matter what had happened that day, that year, there was always a story in which someone overcame their darkest hour.

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