This week’s review is for The Teeth in the Tide by Rebecca F. Kenney. I was provided an ARC ebook copy of this book but unfortunately was not able to get to the review before the release. I then purchased the paperback with my own money, which is the edition referenced throughout the review. However, as always, receiving an ARC does not influence my opinions. As always, this review is 100% my honest thoughts.
About the Author
Rebecca F. Kenney is an indie author and book cover designer from South Carolina. In addition to her Secrets of the Fae trilogy, she is known for her serials on Patreon (and now Kindle Vella!) and Patreon-exclusive novels (honestly, the sheer amount of content she puts out is well worth the Patreon subscription). I haven’t featured any of her Patreon novels on the blog due to their exclusive nature, but you can find my reviews of her Peter Pan books on my Goodreads.
About the Book
The Teeth in the Tide is a dark fantasy by Rebecca F. Kenney. It is 256 pages in print. It is available as an eBook ($3.99), paperback ($15.99) and hardcover ($18.99) from Amazon.com. At the time of this review, the ebook edition is exclusive to Amazon and can be read through the Kindle Unlimited program.
Note: One thing I want to mention right away about this book before we really get inot the review is to be aware of the content warnings. They’re listed on the page with the playlist in the paperback edition. Normally I’m not one to draw attention to content warnings but in this case I think it’s important.
I’ve talked about Kenney on the blog before not as an author, but as a cover designer. Y’all may recall the inordinate amount of words I spent gushing over the cover of Macdonald’s Thief of Spring.
With The Teeth in the Tide, Kenney continues to showcase her talent for cover design. The cover had me three-quarters of the way sold before I even read the blurb. I adore the color palette and the “toothy” font is a nice touch.
I quite enjoyed the interior design for this book. There were no flaws that made it difficult to read and the font choice was pleasant. I really like the chapter header images and how they differ for the two viewpoint characters.
I have some thoughts that are somewhat spoiler-y that would otherwise fit in this section. I have placed them at the bottom of the blog post. If you don’t mind minor (I think they’re minor in the context of the whole plot) spoilers, please feel free to skip down there and come back up.
The book starts out with a really interesting premise that plays on the folklore versions of mermaids where they are evil and cruel seductresses that murder sailors for fun and food. In Kenney’s version, the mermaids have surrounded an island populated with people and essentially cut it off from the rest of civilization. Only one ship still dares to sail through the mermaid infested waters, acting as the islanders’ last lifeline. Some of Kenney’s advertising describes the book as Attack on Titan X Gender-Swapped Little Mermaid. From what I know of AoT that’s a fairly accurate description.
Honestly, I love this premise. It’s not the first one I’ve read that takes the stance of “mermaids are bad, actually,” but it does it in such an interesting way.
There’s a bunch of characters I could talk about but I’m going to focus on Kestra and Rake since they are the viewpoint characters for the novel. I’m also going to touch on the mermaid queens more broadly because the three of them are some pieces of work, let me tell you.
What I love about Kestra is the genuine character arc for her. She starts to evolve as she learns to set aside her hatred of all things mermaid enough to trust Rake and even build something start to approach friendship with him.
Rake is deeply emotionally scarred by the trauma inflicted on him by the mermaid queens. Much of this actually takes place off screen so to speak — thank you for that, Rebecca, because that would have been MESSED UP otherwise — but the reader is shown enough to know that Rake’s life is basically hell under the sea. And yet Rake is able to love his son Jewel with an intense ferocity, braving unimaginable horrors to see his son safe and loved.
The other thing about The Teeth in the Tide that really sets it apart from some of Kenney’s other works for me is this: despite all the awful things that happen to her characters, you actually see good, relatively healthy relationships. I remember reading Kenney’s Peter Pan books and thinking “dang, these two are toxic as AF (Wendy and Peter).” At no point did that thought cross my mind with the main couple of the story, Kestra and Flay.
My only complaint for character development is that I feel like the mermaid queens were lacking any real motivation. Why were they so insistent on the reckless breeding that was destroying their own habitat? Even so, the character work with the other characters far outweighs this qualm.
There were a couple of things with the worldbuilding that you just sort of had to go with. The strange biology of the mermaids and how they spawn is one of these. What sort of saves it is that the characters recognize in world that it’s bizarre and even remark upon the oddity.
The other sort of gimme with the worldbuilding that the reader just sort of has to take on faith is the technology that allows the mermaids to come onto land. Again, this is recognized as the amazing impossibility that it is by the characters. Mai, Kestra’s cousin, is particularly keen to study it.
Ignoring all of that though, Kenney builds us an amazing, terrifying world under the ocean’s waves. She even remembers to keep the physics of being underwater in mind (I’ve seen this forgotten before in mermaid lit). An example of this is the exquisite little detail of Rake noticing shelves and open containers in human houses and thinking about how they’d make little sense in his world.
How the islanders function, their food sources and their economy is also well thought out. It feels real, grounded.
Just about the only thing this has in common with the Little Mermaid is that there are mermaids and at least one of them comes onto land. The plot similarities pretty much end there. However, the plot continues to surprise right up to the end and you’re left sort of breathless as it drives to the conclusion.
I really enjoy Kenney’s writing. I find her style engaging and at times poetic. Her descriptions evoke the senses and draw you into the novel’s world.
There are very few books where I’m less than two chapters in and I’m already thinking “this is going to be a 5 stars review.” The Teeth in the Tide was one of those for me. It is just plain good. The writing is spot on. The character development is great. Kenney somehow manages to bring a sense of absolute horror without actually turning it into a horror novel. I got to the end of the book and I my immediate thought was I want more. Fortunately for me, it appears that Kenney does intend to continue the story in a second installment and I am already chomping at the bit for it.
The blurb for this book frustrates me. The way it’s written triggered something in my brain that said “oh, romance genre. These will be the two love interests.” Well, no that’s not exactly how things go down in the book. Don’t get me wrong, I think the way it went down in the book is better than a romance between those two characters would have been, but it set me up for false expectations and caused me to dislike Flay initially, suspecting him of ill-intentions for about 75% of the book.