Tides of Mana by Matt Larkin {SPFBO5 Semi-finalist}

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There’s a short prologue that sets the tone for the rest of the book. The POV, Nyi Ra is a mermaid and her family is in the middle of negotiations with another merfolk society,  one that they’ve been rivals with for thousands of years. Her father wants to marry their queen and in exchange, he will give them a “wish pearl” (a physical manifestation of mana stronger than any other in the world. They were thought to be lost). It’s treason and it doesn’t go well. The merfolk have jaws that can extend past what humans can, kind of like a snake, and attack with shark-like teeth. Nyi Ra bit down on a dude’s skull and “shuddered in delight” when she felt his face crunch and his salty brain matter filled her mouth – it gave her a frenzy. The merfolk are described several times as humans mixed with a shark, feral almost at times when there’s blood in the water. They are considered god-like by humans and require humans to give them sacrifices from time to time. Mer souls are able to inhabit other bodies and leave if the body dies. It’s considered extra heinous to kill the soul along with the body, but it can be done with glyphs, using them to trap the soul in the body as it dies. The opening also has Nyi Ra struggling not to be eaten alive with her soul trapped inside her hosts body. It’s dark, and it doesn’t lighten up as the book goes on.

So, while the merfolk are going to war with each other again, so are the humans. There are four daughters who are half-gods, each possessing different magics. Pele wields fire and Namaka can control water. Chapter one is of Namaka surveying her kingdom, reduced to rubble after a tsunami and a volcano ravaged it, leaving it uninhabitable. She and her cohorts have to leave and find another island. She is described as having endless fury and she is on the warpath to find her sister and take her revenge. She took a long time for me to warm up to her. She’s not exactly a relatable character and only starts to be humanized a little later in the story. But, she’s interesting enough to counter the harshness most of the time. Pele, her younger sister, is on the run after their last encounter but Namaka refuses to give up the pursuit. Pele slept with her husband and they are both running now, lol. Pele doesn’t even love her sister’s husband, it was just lust and she’s having some serious regrets. Pele is able to use the magma, volcanoes, and fires of the Earth and bring them to the surface and fight with it. She’s known as the Flame Queen and it’s neat shit to read about. There are a bunch of other POVs including a werebear who can change into a boar and get possessed by the Boar God at any given time, and yet another queen, Poli’ahu.

Since so many of the POVs are Queens or royalty of some kind, there’s a lot of “how dare they” inner commentary that began to sound too similar for my tastes.  The choice to have multiple Queens as POVs could have been okay if they had they had personalities that varied a bit more. They were all sort of haughty, holier than thou, prone to having a short fuse, and impulsive behavior.  One of them was casually thinking about freezing someone’s vocal cords… she wanted to give him a slow death because he gave her a backslap after a joke. The other is getting shitty towards the merfolk who are considered to be gods. Get the stick out of your ass, lady. Of all the POVs I think I liked Pele the most, she had at least some kind of conscience. Kama/wereboar was definitely my least favorite because of a very strange use of cursing in his chapters.  Kama didn’t have a ton of page time, but just the word “shitting” came up 43 times. It was okay the first few times, but after a while I wanted to scream STAHP.


The pacing was okay, but there’s definitely a learning curve to it that kept it from being a faster paced book. I don’t know many people who are familiar with Hawaiian terms, language, and culture but I really wasn’t. Every time I saw the word ‘ohana I just thought of Stitch. There are lots of vowels, apostrophes and long words that are hard to pronounce in my head (Mo’oinanea, Hakalanileo, Kamapua’a). It took me a couple chapters of flipping back to the glossary to familiarize myself, but once I did things started to read a bit faster. That was dampened a bit by how many POVs there were and how late they were introduced into the story. You didn’t always know right away who they were or why they mattered. There are some faster-paced scenes where the sisters fight. It’s old school fire v. water fights. (I’ve read a lot of elemental magic this year so far).

The writing was pretty good, there were a couple times I thought the dialogue sounded a bit off. A touch wordy for how people usually speak, and a bit stiff or forced in some places. There were times it flowed nicely, too. I’ve never encountered the word “shitting” being used the way it was here. “You went and raked the stick over its shitting balls” …”You can’t find a boar? I’ll show you a shitting boar.” It reads like shit is being replaced for fuck “I’ll show you a fucking boar” which is interesting since fuck is used all the time. I never thought I’d see sex referred to as “horizontal hula” lol. There’s a lot of swearing, the f word is all over this book.  There’s also lots of cursing, blood, gore, darker themes etc. The info-dumping was kept to a minimum, and when it happened it at least made sense in the scene. It wasn’t just two characters telling themselves things they should know.

All in all this will be for people who like darker stories of blood, gore, regrets, families being torn apart, human sacrifices and more. I may not have been the ideal audience here because I get so irked by weird cursing ticks and overused words – but those are subjective and other people may read right past it without any annoyance. Worth checking out if you’re looking for something super different.

TLDR: Mersocieties are at war. So are humans. When Queens collide no one wins. Gory, bloody, dark, Hawaiian mermaid story. Lots of elemental magic. In-depth and complex world-building. Grey characters. 


  • Plot: 10/15
  • Characters: 10/15 
  • World-Building: 12.5/15
  • Writing: 12/15
  • Pacing: 11/15
  • Originality: 13.5/15
  • Personal Enjoyment: 6.5/10 

Final Score: 75.5/100 or 3.7/5 on GR 


Mark it TBR on GR