Undine Hardcover – 1 Feb 2006
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I discovered a fast-paced, beautifully written fantasy story with very likeable characters and a well-built mystery. Needless to say that after a couple of pages I found myself hooked. Not because I didn't know who or, better said, what Undine was (we all know the story of Undine/ Ondine, the water nymph) but because the author managed to build the suspense in such a simple, effective way, that it kept me turning the pages. This made me think... sometimes it is not about the secret or the mystery, but about how you get to it. Those who say there's nothing left to write about when it comes to paranormal/ fantasy (many of us are tired of vamps, weres, angels, demons and so on), they're right, of course. But the writing style CAN make a difference.
Undine Marine is a normal 16-year-old girl who lives with her mother, Lou, and little brother, Jasper, in a small house. She spends her free time with her best friend, Trout, who's passionate about science and physics. Her life would've continued on this easy, uncomplicated path if it weren't for an odd "feeling" she has, something between physical and emotional, that builds inside of her every now and then, for no particular reason: "She felt a lump of something, starting at the base of her spine and working its way upward. It wasn't a physical something, though it belonged inside her body, under her skin, trapped inside the fine network of muscle, tissue, nerves, and bone." I'm not going to tell you what this "something" is, so if you want to find out, you'd better read the book. Really, Penni Russon knows how to build suspense.
Undine knows nothing about her father, except what her mother told her: he's dead. But when she begins to receive unusual messages and a voice keeps shouting in her head "Undine, it's time to come home", she starts wondering if her mother really told her the truth or if it's possible that her father is alive and looking for her. Even more questions arise when she realizes that somehow she's changing, becoming someone else, a powerful creature who can control the weather and drive men to her through the magic that's bubbling inside her veins. Undine decides she needs to find out who she really is and her only option is to find her supposedly dead father.
The dialogues and situations in this story are very realistic and believable. There are some very funny scenes between Undine's mother and Trout and sometimes I couldn't help laughing at how hilarious these two were. I liked Trout because he's a normal teenage boy. Finally, the lead male character is not a sexy, hot, badass who the heroine falls in love with. I kind of grew tired of those. Anyway, Undine doesn't fall for Trout, but this is a different story (at least I hope it will be in the next book in the series).
What disappointed me was the ending. I found it rushed and the whole chaos that was unleashed by Undine and her father ended too much of a sudden and with little consequences. I'm not saying that anyone should have died. But if there's something I really hate about some books is that they don't have real villains. If readers need strong positive characters to relate to, then they also need villains that can match them. Turning a villain into a good, misunderstood guy (and as fast as Penni Russon did in her book) is just not my cup of tea...
Otherwise, "Undine" is a light, relaxing read that I recommend in case you don't know what to read next. The author has a very clean and enjoyable writing style, which I think many readers will appreciate.
Stress is placed on the words "supposed to be" because the reality is that this distinction is barely, if at all, made in the novel. The novel ends up becoming more of a sappy melodrama focusing on Undine's relationships with boys more than anything. Trout, Richard (Trout's older brother), and Grant (Richard's friend), Undine has apparently seduced or bewitched all three boys with her magic and her long legs. A great proportion of the novel is dedicated to the sixteen year old girl's silly love life, or lack thereof, rather than on building the plot. Of course it can be argued that `love' and hormones are a significant part of growing up and that Undine's self-discovery is directly related to her relationship with one of the three young men mentioned. However, the topic is overplayed in the novel and distracts from the main meaning of the novel. It transforms the novel itself into a shallow piece of writing. The same concept could have been explained to the reader much more effectively it was given slightly less attention. In addition, if the author's message was to shed light on the process of growing up through this, she failed miserably. Growing up has a lot more to it than just raging hormones.
It is highly unlikely that a person will be able to "grow up" or "find herself" in just one week, as Undine apparently does. The novel spans over the course of approximately seven days. The purpose of this time range is unclear. Perhaps the author intended to show the unpredictability of life through this somehow, or it might have just been a whim. The latter appears to be truer.
This short time period is juxtaposed with a voluminous amount of absolutely nothing in the book. One would presume that a short time span would mean that the book is either very fast paced or if it isn't, then a lot of plot is fed into each day mentioned. Ideally, this would be the case. However, in Undine, it isn't. The book has chapters' worth of no plot or storyline whatsoever, instead replaced with silly rantings of children and their hormones and Undine's deteriorated relationship with her mother. Admittedly these are important aspects of life, but they don't take the story forward enough to dedicate a massive amount of the book to them.
Another decision the author made about her novel that doesn't entirely make sense either is her choice to write it in a third person limited point of view, alternating between the perspectives of Undine and Trout. The story is about Undine and her journey for self discovery and she clearly is the protagonist. Trout is just a side character whose emotions and feelings don't really matter when taking the rest of the story into consideration. Parts of the story told in his point of view merely and unnecessarily show the raging hormones of male teenagers, demonstrating how such hormones transcend all boundaries posed by gender. This has nothing at all to do with the main storyline. Perhaps the author intended to contrast Trout and Undine's changes in characterizations--Trout's personality remains constant for the most part whereas Undine's changes greatly, shifting from nice, happy, and cheerful to annoying, scared and full of angst to finally content. Still, so much stress on him was unnecessary, especially with his online conversations with "MAX." The only result of telling the story through Trout's point of view is to force the readers to sympathize with him, especially when Undine chooses his own older brother over him to start a romantic relationship with, all the while fully knowing about his feelings for her. That's a lie. There's another result: a waste of time and space.
The structure of the book shows an amount of lack of creativity on the part of the writer. She divided it into two parts, labeled Part 1 and Part 2, respectively. Part 1 is about Undine realizing that she isn't even as normal as she believed she was and that she needs to find answers about herself and her heritage from her father who she does not know at all rather than confront her mother, who has raised her for her entire life, for the answers. The second part comprises of her going to get those answers and then actually finding them. Such clear and simple distinctions take away from the sense of reality that remained in the novel, regardless of its being about magic. Life is not so simple to be easily divided into two segments like that. All `segments' merge and blend into each other in real life. Such division of the book is thus also unnecessary.
The novel deals with too many thematic ideas. It struggles with the ethical debate of human dignity versus scientific curiosity, with mother-daughter relationships, the changing relationships of friends, self-discovery, father-daughter relationships, coming of age, the horrors of power and greed, and many more. It appears that the author is trying to tackle too many themes into one book and is thus unable to effectively develop even one of them. This also prevents her from tying up all the loose ends in the storyline. Many mysteries that captured the reader in the beginning remain unanswered. Why, for example, are Tuesdays always bad days? How did objects from Undine's dreams materialize? If Undine had this `magic' feeling from the beginning, why did she never talk to her mother about it before? And, I even dare ask, what happens to the relationship between Trout and Undine?
Too many loose ends, too draggy a story, and too much emphasis on unnecessary characterization transform Undine from a potentially interesting read to a boring book that one just wants to put an end to as fast as possible. It is a disappointment and not recommended if you are looking for a degree of depth of plot or a well-developed storyline in your reading.