These days, you can find just about any niche romance subcategory imaginable. From hockey romance to alien romance to cyberpunk romance, you name it, and it exists! But today’s crazy book genre doesn’t take us to the ice rink, outer space, or even the future. Instead, we’re taking a trip under the sea to explore lesbian mermaid romance. If you’re a fan of sapphic love stories with a mythical twist, this genre might be the perfect fit for you! Keep reading to discover the depths of what lesbian mermaid romance has to offer.
What is lesbian mermaid romance?
Lesbian mermaid romance is a subgenre of fantasy and romance that depicts a romantic relationship between two women, at least one of which is typically a mermaid. These stories range from fun, steamy beach reads to more serious explorations of queerness and identity through the lens of mermaid mythology.
Origins of the Mermaid Myth
The mermaid myth dates back to the first century B.C.E. when Atargatis, the Syriac fertility goddess, became the first mermaid to be entered into the written record. Greek historian Diodorus Siculus described her as having the body of a fish and the head of a woman.
Then, in the third century B.C.E., a more modern version of the mermaid would appear in Apollonius of Rhodes’s The Voyage of the Argo, in which one of the characters encounters a water spirit called a naiad. Naiads were characterized by their alluring beauty and amorality, sometimes being depicted as abducting hapless sailors. Similarly, sirens — as depicted in Homer’s The Odyssey, as well as subsequent literature — were described as mermaid-like creatures who used their looks and their hypnotic songs to lure mariners to their deaths.
Early Mermaid Stories
Undoubtedly, early mermaid mythologies helped to shape the lore we’re familiar with now. But more than any other depiction of these ocean-dwelling creatures, much of the mermaid media we have today — whether it be books, art, or movies — draws inspiration from Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 story, The Little Mermaid. While most of us are familiar with Disney’s uplifting animated adaptation of the tale, the original version is much darker.
Andersen’s story was based on his own unrequited love for a straight man named Edvard Collin. The unnamed mermaid protagonist in Andersen’s The Little Mermaid has to watch as the prince she loves marries a princess from another kingdom to strengthen an alliance between the two nations. Unable to bear the reality that her love will never be returned, the mermaid dies of a broken heart, dissolving into sea foam.
Andersen’s tale would go on to inspire a host of queer mermaid media, including Oscar Wilde’s 1891 short story, The Fisherman and His Soul, which tells the tale of a blossoming relationship between a man and a mermaid. While not explicitly queer, the story uses subtext to explore a love that exists outside of the restraints of heteronormativity: the couple cannot be sexually intimate or procreate, and their relationship is seen as an “abomination.”
Additionally, artist Evelyn De Morgan’s painting The Sea Maidens, completed in 1886, was a response to The Little Mermaid. The painting depicts five mermaids with long, flowing golden hair, the unclothed top half of their bodies rising above the water while their tails remain below. Each mermaid is modeled after De Morgan’s muse, Jane Hales.
Today, the mermaid has been transformed into a symbol of diversity used to celebrate queerness, femininity, disability, and general “otherness.” Therefore, the genre of lesbian mermaid romance has prospered in recent years, building on the long history of queer mermaid stories to explore the connection between mermaids and various queer identities in new and interesting ways.
Common Tropes and Plots
One of the most common tropes within the lesbian mermaid romance genre is the association between the ocean — or water in general — and womanhood. This link between the ocean and femininity can be seen as early as the third century B.C.E. in the Aphrodite myth, in which the goddess of beauty is borne from the ocean. While mermen are present in some mermaid stories, mermaids, naiads, sirens, selkies, and other such mermaid-esque creatures have predominantly been depicted as female.
Additional tropes include inhumanly beautiful merfolk, seashell bras, underwater civilizations, and the underwater kiss. A common plot involves the mermaid saving someone from drowning, which typically kickstarts a romance between the two characters.
The Deep by Rivers Solomon
This award-winning novella tells the story of the wajinru, merfolk descended from pregnant African women thrown overboard from slave ships voyaging across the Atlantic. Yetu, the current historian of the wajinru, is responsible for holding onto all of the painful memories of the wajinru’s painful past while the rest of the wajinru get to live in blissful ignorance. In an attempt to flee these traumatic memories, Yetu escapes to the land. There, she meets a human named Oori, who makes her question everything she thought she knew about the surface-dwellers.
Ice Massacre by Tiana Warner
Ice Massacre is the first book in the Mermaids of Eriana Kwai trilogy. This first installment tells the story of the warrior women of Eriana Kwai, an island surrounded by mermaid-infested waters. These mermaids are dangerous — they’re known to drag sailors to their deaths — so 18-year-old Meela and her fellow female soldiers must wage war against the mermaids to ensure the future of their home. But things get complicated when Meela starts to develop feelings for one of the mermaids she was sent to kill. Fun fact: this book is now a graphic novel!
The Mermaid’s Daughter by Ann Claycomb
The Mermaid’s Daughter follows 25-year-old Kathleen, an opera student with a bizarre medical malady and a longing for the sea. Unexplainably, Kathleen experiences stabbing pains in her feet that are only eased when she touches seawater. In a search for answers, she and her girlfriend Harry uncover the secrets of Kathleen’s family history. But Kathleen is soon faced with an impossible choice: return to the sea where she belongs or stay on land with her lover and face death.
The Girl From the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag
In this young adult graphic novel, 15-year-old Morgan is a closeted high schooler dealing with the fallout of her parent’s divorce. When she is saved from drowning one night by a mysterious girl named Keltie, Morgan develops a friendship with the girl that quickly turns into something more. But this budding romance just might bring the secrets each girl has been keeping to the surface. While Keltie is a selkie — a half-human, half-seal creature — instead of a mermaid, this story is too good not to include!
Other lesbian mermaid romances to check out:
- Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai
- Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
- Surface Tension by Valentine Wheeler
- The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember
- The Fate of Stars by S.D. Simper
- A Mean Piece of Water by Jes McCutchen
As you can see, this genre has so much to offer, from forbidden romance to high-stakes action to wholesome first loves and identity exploration. If this seems enticing to you, check out the lesbian mermaid romance books above!