It is tale of loss, sacrifice, doubt and depression, ultimate love, and mythology. We follow Kahlen, a young woman who becomes a siren at the beck and call of the Ocean. She and her sisters, or fellow sirens, are forbidden to speak and must not reveal what they are. Every six months or so, the Ocean calls to them and She bids them to sing, luring a ship or boat astray and enthralling the occupants to enter the water to their death, "feeding" the Ocean so that the rest of humanity can be protected (sacrifice the few for the many). Unlike her sisters who have not been sirens as long, Kahlen struggles with these duties until her century long service to the Ocean is completed. She can only remember a few snippets of her life before the deal she struck with the Ocean, so she feels empty and guilt-ridden. Every singing brings her closer and closer to a darkness that she can't shake. But then she meets a young man, someone who sees through her mythological physical beauty to who she is deep inside. It is forbidden, for She does not take wives or mothers into Her services, because their loyalty will not solely lie with Her. Especially for Kahlen, who has treated the Ocean like a mother and sought Her out for advice and comfort, the Ocean cannot stand her devotion being diverted, because she is the most precious of Her sirens, the one who cares about how She feels and how best to serve Her. As Kahlen is led through a winding path of lovesick-induced reclusion, and then a wonderful yet forbidden adventure, a sickness befalls her, something that should not happen to someone who is immortal during their term as a siren.
The aspects of the novel I am most enraptured by are the Ocean and the soulmate-dom of Kahlen and Akinli, and how the two play into each other.
We see the Ocean as a mother/caregiver, especially to Kahlen, who longs for that maternal relationship in a life that she finds little joy in living. The Ocean gives her company, tries to console her of the deaths that she helps to cause, giving significance to her existence as a siren. She "loves" Kahlen, cares for her the most out of all sirens she has had and has now in her service, because Kahlen seeks her out even when not called for, looks to her for guidance, acceptance, and appreciation; She is treated as necessity by Kahlen and not just as a means to fulfill a duty.
However, this "loving relationship" between the Ocean and Kahlen is conditional. Up until the point Kahlen meets Akinli, falls in love, and cannot deny the supernaturally strong connection to him, she was the perfect, though depressed and withdrawn, siren to the Ocean and Her needs. Once she revealed her intense love for Akinli to the Ocean, She became a tyrant. The basis for the rules dictating who she chose to be her sirens--no wives and no mothers--was love, which Kahlen had found with Akinli, compromising her devotion to the Ocean. The Ocean could not longer trust Kahlen to fulfill her duties without pause or failure. To the Ocean, obedience was love, and if someone disobeyed Her, then it was a sign that they did not love Her--a tell-tale sign of a possessive abuser, especially when She resorts to threats in an effort to regain obedience from her sirens.
But can we dislike/hate her for her tyranny? I have gone back on forth on this matter, wanting to loathe the Ocean for how she viewed love and all other human emotions, how she expressed her dissatisfaction, how she took lives so easily? And ultimately, why did it take Her SO FREAKING LONG to release Kahlen from her siren servitude, thus saving her from dying? I mean, COME ON, OCEAN, GET WITH IT.
Then I remembered: She is not human, so she doesn't feel emotions like a human would. Even though she bestowed her sirens with the ability to never age, sicken, or die, their essence remained human and they retained their human emotions. However, those emotions were not something the Ocean could experience as well--she could rationalize her way through problems, retain information, and showed an immense amount of intelligence, but those darn emotions eluded her. She could try to understand them, and to a certain extent may have minutely grasped how some of them worked (i.e. someone seeking comfort and advice from you as a sign of caring), but the logical side of her was just too strong. In the end, I could only best compare her to what an animal does in that wild: do what is required to survive.
Like I mentioned earlier, I spoke with a book friend many times about The Siren. She and I love it and find something new to discuss each conversation that we bring it up. I just want to take a moment and share this wonderful perspective on the Ocean's role in Kahlen's life.
The Ocean symbolizes a season in life, in particular one that becomes a comfort zone. It also becomes destructive if you let it hold you back from who you are meant to be and what you are meant to do. With that in mind, it does not make the season necessarily evil. Without her time as a siren, Kahlen would not have met her soulmate Akinli. Once she tasted the life she was meant to have, she began to resent the Ocean and, eventually, sicken from her separation from her destiny with Akinli. Once she had that taste, she could not go back to the way life had been before--she knew there was more to life than what she had known, and she didn't want to live on without it. It was after meeting Akinli that Kahlen realized that there was more to her existence than helping the Ocean kill people, and that was creating a future with her soulmate. Her time as a siren for the Ocean was a season in life that was necessary for her to live long enough to find Akinli, and if she had remained a siren she would have died physically and emotionally, starved of potential.