This Middle-Grade level book is a sequel to Delia Sherman’s Changeling, but from my own experience with this second book – it’s not a requirement that you have read the first book to enjoy The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen. This book series is an Urban Fantasy for the younger set – the hidden fairy/mystical world hidden within our own, inhabited by creatures just beyond our own mortal perceptions. The main character of this series, Neef, is a Changeling (I assume able to manipulate her form in some way, though her power was never used in this book) who is also a mystical guardian of Central Park in New York City. There are mystical guardians for neighborhoods all over New York City (and presumably all over the world) – and these guardians are all taught how to use their powers at Miss Van Loon’s School for Mortal Changelings. Neef begins attending classes for the first time at the beginning of this book, meeting new friends as well as school bullies and odd teachers. One of the major plot points are the hundreds of rules you must learn and abide by while attending school – how do the students work around those rules without getting into trouble (and winding up expelled). On top of all that, something is wrong in Central Park - a Mermaid who lives in New York Harbor is magically attacking the park. She had a run-in with Neef in the previous book, and now that her Magic Mirror is missing, she blames Neef (and therefore is attacking her home). So, Neef needs to go on a quest to retrieve the Magic Mirror – but first that requires her to get a permission slip from the school – which is no easy task. But with the help of her friends, and even the conversion of a former bully into a new ally, Neef succeeds in making everything right again by the end of the book. There are things that I really liked about this book, and then there were things that were just way too familiar. You can already probably see the parallels to Harry Potter in the descriptions of odd teachers and strange rules as well as odd quests. About the only thing that sets this part of the book apart from the Potter series is that this entire book only takes place in the first two months of the school year – with the finale taking place on Halloween. So conceivably any number of future books still might only take place during Neef’s first year at school. On the other hand, I really liked the between world – this place that normal people can’t see, that exists parallel to our own. Sure even this has been used before, but often it’s little more than window dressing – here it’s a major part of the plot. That world is divided up and constantly in a state of forming alliances and adversaries – and those things affect the real world (plants that won’t grow or areas that wind up as ‘bad’ neighborhoods). And Neef is a little like Alice in Wonderland – she’s new to this world, so everything that’s odd to the reader is also odd to her – bridging the character to the reader, which is probably necessary in a middle-grade book.
Ultimately The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen isn’t terribly original, but it’s a very accessible book and an enjoyable read, even for an adult. I never thought the book talked down to its intended audience, and suspect it would be well liked by Middle-Grade readers. Unfortunately, there isn’t quite enough for me to recommend it to adult readers – you’ll find more interesting YA books for your taste elsewhere.