by Ben Gorman
author of 'The Sum of Our Gods'
This mixture of an espionage thriller and a contemporary fantasy story felt like something John le Carré might have produced if he’d been tasked with creating something similar to Twilight. Unlike that disappointing, over-hyped vampire story, Mark Fleming aims for something more Le Carré-esque when he sets his novel in a world of competing clandestine organizations, corrupt oligarchs, greedy NGOs, and cynical bureaucrats. This ratchets-up the stakes to a degree that is both exciting and believable. At the same time, he gives us a heroine who is just as mythological as any vampire, a siren, but also a woman who is complex, tortured, and powerful in a way that avoids Twilight’s teenage girl's anti-feminist sexual experience/marriage/instant domesticity fantasy. In short, The Call of the Siren offers the escapist fun of Twilight without the icky sense that you’re contributing to regressive sexual politics.
### The beach-read vacation is part of the romance. Beginning in England’s Lake District (where one might expect to find a creature who likes to hide out in freshwater pools), The Call of the Siren whisks the reader off on a tour of London, rural France, the beaches of Thailand, the side streets of Rome, and back to England. I felt like I’d enjoyed some good passport stamping, but I never felt dislocated or jet-lagged by the plot.
### The main character, Eleanor (who must go by a few aliases due to her profession), merges a well-conceived mythological character with a complex human’s psychology. For example, while the mythology provides her with some Achilles heels (electricity, fast moving water, the ocean, a limited memory), she also has her own human weaknesses (a need to find love and a sense that she is trapped which is so strong it makes her nearly suicidal). Conversely, just as the mythology gives her strengths (near-invulnerability, super-strength, accelerated reflexes, the ability to turn into a liquid to escape), her humanity gives her strengths, too (compassion, charisma, and humor). One of her more interesting characteristics is a variation on the pathology of cutting; with her superhuman abilities, cutting wouldn’t do her any good (i.e. harm), so she uses electricity in the same way a cutter uses bloodletting to deal with psychological pain. I found that both clever and insightful.
### I won’t give away any of the plot, but there were twists that caught me off guard, a few of them genuinely heart-wrenching. The pacing at the beginning of the book (after the very exciting first few chapters) slows in a way that matches Eleanor’s undercover persona, and there were times when that work of gaining trust moved a bit unhurriedly for my taste, but this allowed Fleming to hit the throttle at the end (spoiler: someone literally hits the throttle), zipping through the climax with satisfying speed.
### Though the book could probably benefit from a fine-tooth combing by a schoolmarm grammarian with an eye for the occasional missed comma, over-all it's very readable. Fleming lets his prose get a bit purple from time to time, but I was impressed by his ability to write about seduction without being graphic or tepid. That’s a difficult needle to thread, and he manages to do it frequently in a story that hinges on Eleanor’s ability to entice men to their untimely but enjoyable ends.
### I don’t want to reveal if the story’s ending is simply happy or complicated and end-of-Old Yeller-heartbreaking (hint: nothing about Eleanor’s life is simple), but it’s important that I make it clear that the ending is satisfying. There’s a window open for a sequel, but the reader isn’t left feeling short-changed. Still, if Eleanor were to trickle through that open window and ask me to follow her down to a nearby stagnant pool for a little dip in a Part II, I would certainly follow her!
by Kate J Squires
author of 'Feather Light'
Your Siren is a wonder! Eleanor is so genuinely intriguing - a lonely, immortal, dangerous being. GREAT first line by the way - you just can't help but read on after that. I also like the fact you can't pick a time period or setting until the doomed man thinks about the cell phone in his pocket - it leaves mystery in the air, then paints the picture, and somehow, the death is more frightening once we know it's happening in our world. The second chapter almost-rape scene was both nerve-racking and glorious. After all, who doesn't love watching a bunch of bad guys get their come-uppances? Another great line, "tarmac of the M6 cooled to steal away traffic." You have a wonderful way with words, very thought out and lyrical.
### Your concept of Eleanor is so detailed - I especially loved the fact she loses her memory after 70 years. She is eternal but alone. I read everything you posted and would have happily read on. Really, really well done.
Intriguing piece... great description and very atmospheric. I like that the setting is Lake District country, partly because I'm been there a lot, but I also like the idea of a typically beautiful part of rural England having a "dark side". Also very convincing portrayal of the siren- she seemed like the helpless victim and then you turned that on its head. Great work, look forward to reading more.