Twelve-year-old Neen is determined to learn about what happened to her mother and the secrets of her past. A decade earlier, Neen’s father drowned and her mother disappeared. Now Neen lives with her Aunt Ushag on the edge of their village of Carrick on an island in the Irish Sea. The townspeople whisper of stories of Neen’s mother being a merrow and returning to the sea after the death of her husband. Neen has questions about her mother and her past and continues to pester her Aunt Ushag for answers. Her Aunt tells stories, but none that give Neen the answers she wants. She turns to Ma Slevin and her blind son, Scully, to tell her the pagan myths and folklore of her Celtic history while the village Priest preaches warnings of the new millennium swiftly approaching with dire consequence to those who remain pagan, such as Ushag, Ma and Scully.
Neen and her Aunt spend their time fishing, hunting, cleaning their catch, curing hides, gathering honey and beeswax, and scavenging the beaches for wood and treasure. As they do, Neen continues to question Aunt Ushag about her mother, asking for answers to what she was like. As a storm comes to the island, reshaping the land, Neen and Aunt Ushag are given the opportunity to examine their stories and explore the possibility of creating new ones.
Braxton-Smith weaves myth and folklore throughout this novel, and although it takes place long ago as Christianity makes its way to Ireland, it feels as though Neen and her world could exist today. The novel sings like the merrow and the sea that Braxton-Smith writes about. By creating strong female storytellers and weaving Manx throughout the novel, Braxton-Smiths calls readers to join Neen in her world and become part of her journey and her folklore.
The mysteries of Neen and her world are those of folktales, myth, and stories that are shared and transformed throughout generations. Merrow takes us on Neen’s journey for answers about her mother and her past and through Neen’s journey we learn how stories make us who we are and transform from the old world to the new.
Note: This review was first published in PCA/ACA Mystery & Detective Reading List (Winter 2017)