They say over and over again in Sonia Faruqi’s The Oyster Thief, that fire and water will never meet. Most of the time, the people who say that are right. After all, the humans on the surface are destructive. They pollute. They pillage. But when Izar finds himself transformed from human to merman and meets disgraced apothecary Coralline, it might just be possible for human fire and merfolk water the meet for once.
I loved the character of Coralline right from the beginning. She’s a bookish girl who strives to be the best apothecary she can be. She’s not quite the girl her mother and her potential mother-in-law want her to be. She’s a bit grubby and unfeminine, and she has a whale shark as a muse (like a pet-cum-sidekick), which no one seems to like. But she has a fiancé who loves her and a bright future…at least until she is fired from her job at the Irregular Remedy and her brother is poisoned in an oil spill.
Meanwhile, Izar, on the surface, is trying to create a robot that can scour the seabed for gold and jewels, armed with a gun and a fire-breathing cannon. He has been brought up to invent things for Ocean Dominion, an oil-drilling and fishing corporation run by his adopted father. While Coralline frequently disappoints her mother, Izar strives to live up to the high expectations his father has for him. Izar is a good son–which is why it is very strange when a series of “accidents” and strange events reveal that someone is trying to kill him. His life gets even worse when an assassin takes him out to see and throws him overboard. Izar suddenly becomes a merman, one of the people he believes killed his real parents.
Coralline and Izar meet in a surprising coincidence. (There are a lot of surprising coincidences in The Oyster Thief.) Izar has just been tossed off a boat in the middle of the ocean. Coralline is on a quest to find a magical elixir that will save her brother’s life. That coincidence, however, turns into fate as Izar and Coralline start saving each other’s lives all over the ocean as people try to kill or arrest them. Coralline and Izar are clearly in deep waters. Not only do they have to find Coralline’s elixir and a way to turn Izar back into a human, they also have to confront important questions about what they truly want in life, what love really is, and how to deal with difficult parents.
There is a distinctly Potterish vibe to The Oyster Thief. There are magic potions galore and the characters have wonderfully alliterative names that seem to come from Hogwart’s history of magic texts. These notes save the book from being a lot darker. It definitely could have been given that one of the primary conflicts of the book is the battle between the humans and the residents of the ocean. I loved the blend of silly and serious, and I absolutely adore the characters. It feels like a pity that I finished the book because I would love to spend more time under the sea with Izar and Coralline.