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Reviewed by Liz Konkel for Readers' Favorite
Free Dive by Emma Shelford is the first book in the Nautilus Legends series. Corrie lives for science, especially the science of the sea – marine biology. Money to fund her research doesn't come easy, but she lives for the secrets underneath the ocean surface. But she has a secret of her own that could destroy everything she has worked for. Corrie saw a mermaid and, as crazy as it sounds, she knows it was real. She gets an exciting opportunity when Zeballos Artino offers up his boat for her to collect samples. What she doesn't know is that Zeballos has his own secrets and his own agenda for having Corrie on board. When a mysterious fish is discovered, Corrie is elated to finally discover the first step to answers about what she had seen but she doesn't have time to celebrate when a drug dealer gets in her way with his own plans to create a new drug. Corrie, Zeballos, and his friends must work together if they're going to survive rocky waters.
One of the immediate qualities of this story is the use of STEM which isn't seen much in urban fantasy. Science is the root of the story with the plot being driven by the role of marine biology through which Emma Shelford weaves in elements of magic. The story dips into the magic of the ocean via the secrets that lie below the surface with the mermaid that Corrie saw, the fish, and Zeballos' own search for answers. This is a fresh take on the idea of marine fantasy with the typical mermaid story spun to blend marine biology, mystery, and fighting a drug dealer. Corrie has two sides to her career with her research as she struggles to get proper funding and the secret blog that allows her to vent about the mermaid she once saw. The biggest challenge she faces is that of Mathias, a drug dealer using the special fish for his own creations, who threatens the fish that she wishes to protect. The story is grounded in reality with fantastical elements woven into the plot. Shelford gives the characters a very real threat and an unpredictable setting in water. Free Dive has magical elements woven into a humorous and action-filled plot that focuses on possibilities, discovery, and the unknown.