Daring to Dream

Expanded universe novels


While most official tie-in books have been for younger readers, there's been an expansion into the young adult category, with novels delving into more complex and/or grown-up themes than the original films and television series did.

On this page I list the novels I'm aware of that touch the world of The Little Mermaid. There may well be others I've missed, so do let me know in the comments or by email!

Meant to Be Prince Happily Never After City of Villains Chills Twisted Tale Villain


Meant to Be

The Meant to Be romance novel series features modern, contemporary retellings of various Disney love stories as told by various authors. The third book in the series is Kiss the Girl, a TLM retelling by Zoraida Córdova that came out in August 2023. Set in the music industry of modern day, Ariel is a pop princess who grew up as part of the successful media franchise of the Siren Seven, a girl group consisting of Ariel and her sisters, and controlled by their father, owner of Atlantica Records. Ariel seeks a breather from this life that she's not sure she wants and, while in diguise as her "civilian" self, she meets Eric, the lead singer of an up-and-coming band of his own.

 

If the Shoe Fits (2022)

By the Book (2022)

Kiss the Girl (2023)

Tangled Up in You (2024)

 

It's such a charming story, and one that takes broad strokes from the animated movie. Ariel is gifted and determined, but sheltered due to her upbringing and leaps at the chance to do things on her own that she never got the chance to growing up. Meanwhile, Eric is a talented singer-songwriter who's been singing about the girl of his dreams that he's never met, and is surprised to find that he may have finally met her, tthough she's turned out to be more vivid than any dream. Of course, there's also the whole problem about how Eric doesn't know Ariel's true identity, and Ariel's struggle on if and when to tell him, when she's been starving for this newfound freedom to be herself and out of the spotlight.

The novel is funny, light-hearted, saucy and uses callbacks to the movie in a fun way, though the story does its own thing with the characters. For example, Ursula still has bad history with Triton (in the book, renamed Teodoro), but here she's also Eric's manager, and makes a deal with Ariel to hire her as the band's merch vendor, but makes Ariel promise to not pursue a relationship with Eric, i.e. there can be no kissing at all. None, nada, zip. Which is a tough promise to keep when Ariel joins Eric's band on tour, and the pair find friendship in having so much to bond over, which makes falling in love pretty easy.

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Prince

The princes get the spotlight in the YA Prince series by Linsey Miller. This first novel, titled Prince of Song & Sea, is about Eric and came out in October 2022. Thanks to Colin for letting me know about this series!

 

Prince of Song & Sea (2022)

Prince of Thorns & Nightmares (2023)

Prince of Glass & Midnight (2024)

 

Prince of Song & Sea is an altered retelling of The Little Mermaid from Eric's point of view, and in doing so fleshes out his motivations and backstory, and gives him a curse of his own to deal with. In this version, Eric is prince of the small country of Vellona, which has been struggling since even before the death of its widowed queen, Eleanor, two years ago. A neighbouring country has been eyeing them maliciously, pirates harass their waters, and strange weather has made life difficult for the people.

As for Eric, he is about to come of age and be crowned king, but he (1) doesn't feel ready for the responsibility, (2) is under a curse. This curse states that he can only kiss his true love; to do otherwise will kill him. The vagueness of the curse forces Eric to be somewhat socially awkward, which is difficult enough when he has a responsibility to marry and continue the royal line. Early in the book Eric finds evidence that his mother was trying to find the witch that cursed him, and with the help of his friends he picks up where she left off. One can imagine that Eric's under quite a bit of pressure here, so it's somewhat distracting when a girl with red hair like the sunrise on a ship deck shows up and is utterly enchanting.

Overall, this is a charming version of Eric's side of the story, with various modern flourishes and a light touch that harks back to the original film, and though it hits various recognisable beats from the movie, the context is altered. It's an interesting approach to twine Eric's fate with that of Ariel's via their individual connections with Ursula (who is, naturally, playing the long game), and it's fun to see Eric shine as himself, as a prince with a good heart and pain from his past, but always trying to do the right thing even if he sometimes fails. Bit a dork, too, which is always great.

The book being from Eric's point of view also means that it's a rush when Ariel shows up, and he pretty much gets twitterpated immediately by her curiosity and guilelessness. The tension lies in us knowing that Eric's secret curse prevents Ariel from fulfiling her deal, but in this version of their love story the pair find connection and communication in their own way, and Ariel's being a force of a nature that takes Eric by surprise is such fun.

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Happily Never After

The YA novel series Happily Never After by Lorie Langdon posits prequel stories that go wrong for various villains, with the first book in the series being about Ursula/Vanessa. As far as I can tell, this book was initially released in French in January 2022, with English-language releases following after.

 

Vanessa (2022)

Gaston (2022)

Yzma (2023)

 

Happily Never After: Vanessa follows the adventures of a young, ambitious Ursula who uses a transformation spell for the first time in her life to take human form. Ursula is tired of the limitations of her underwater life and wants to expand her knowledge of magic and become more powerful, perhaps even one day becoming strong enough to take on King Triton himself. On land she takes the persona of "Vanessa", an amnesiac shipwreck survivor, and meets a young man named Andre Baros, who has inadvertedly released a terrible curse upon his hometown. Vanessa pretends to want to help Andre find a way to break the curse, when her true intentions are to take the curse's power for herself. But the more time Vanessa spends with Andre and his sickly younger sister, Sara, the more that Vanessa finds her priorities shifting, and decides that she wants to keep Andre for herself.

 
 

Different covers of Lorie Langdon's "Happily Never After: Vanessa"

It's an interesting idea for a prequel, where Ursula does not yet call herself a sea witch, and stands at something of a crossroads of what her future can be. She feels much younger than the Ursula we know from the movie, and the book is set pretty much entirely on land, though Triton and Atlantica do get mentions.

Ursula is still selfish and manipulative, but her hunger for power is more about trying to fill an emptiness in herself that she can't recognize. She pretends to be sympathetic to Andre and Sara's plight, but as time goes by the lie starts to get a little bit of truth in it, and she grows to care for them in her own way. The problem is of course that she's lied about who she is and what she wants, and that their quest has her crossing paths with magical beings that are more powerful than herself (and who perhaps give her the idea of trapping desperate souls by offers of "favors"). As it plays out, Ursula needs to make choices on who she wants to be and what's worth real sacrifice.

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City of Villains

Estelle Laure's City of Villains is a YA noir/crime/adventure series kicked off in January 2021 with the release of the first novel with that title. The story takes place in Monarch City, a modern city that was once was full of magic and wonder until said magic abruptly disappeared, traumatizing the populace and causing deep ruptures in the community. There are especially people who believe that magic is still out there, and that they just need to find a way to tap back into it.

Much like other contemporary gritty fairy tale retellings, City of Villains features a number of familiar characters living in a world not that unlike ours (aside from the magic thing) that has always been theirs. The main character is Mary Elizabeth Heart, a Legacy teenager (i.e. born of a magical lineage) who has tremendous skills with pinball croquet and ambitions to become a cop so she can protect her fellow Legacy folk from those who never had magic and cannot understand its loss.

Although Mary Elizabeth is merely an intern, she's given a partner (the tightly-wound and booksmart Bella) and her first case, to find missing Legacy teenager Mally Saint, a descendant of fairy queens. As Mary Elizabeth digs in, she finds that there's greater forces at work than a straightforward kidnapping, and that the case itself strikes close to home, involving her best friend Ursula and boyfriend James "Captain" Bartholomew.

Personally I found the first novel a pretty compelling story, with intriguing worldbuilding of a modern community struggling to cope with deep losses and finding themselvs roughshod by corporate powers out to gentrify their streets. There's fun, too, in identifying familiar characters and have it be the villains at the centre, even if they themselves are not necessarily "villains" within this specific story. Ursula in particular plays a hefty role in the book, with a side hustle job that speaks to her passions in the original film.

City of Villains (2021)

City of Hooks and Scars (2022)

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Chills

The Disney Chills series, written by Vera Strange, is a children's horror book series where classic villains terrorize young protagonists in modern settings.

Part of Your Nightmare (2020)

Fiends on the Other Side (2020)

Second Star to the Fright (2021)

Be Careful What You Wish Fur (2021)

Liar, Liar Head on Fire (2021)

Once Upon a Scream (2022)

The Circle of Ter-roar (2023)

The first book in the series is Part of Your Nightmare, which came out in July 2020. In it, eleven-year-old Shelly Anderson struggles with various changes in her life: her parents' divorce, changing school, striving to fit in with her new popular friends, and beating her swimming competitor from a rival school. It's a lot at once, and Shelly feels the pressure from all sides, making her desperate to hold on to what little positive she has in her life, especially her newfound friends: Kendall, the most popular girl, and twins Attina and Alana.

When Shelly gives in to peer pressure and throws litter into the ocean, that act brings her into Ursula's influence. Shelly has a nightmare where she meets Ursula herself, and is given the chance to sign a contract: Shelly can become the fastest swimmmer ever, if she'd do a favour for Ursula in return. At first Shelly dismisses the whole thing as a figment of her imagination, but in daytime she's plagued by visions and voices. The deal feels more and more real, especially when things in Shelly's life go wrong the longer that she ignores Ursula's call.

 
 

Different covers of Vera Strange's "Part of Your Nightmare"

As a Goosebumps-style villain-inspired spin-off, it's a cool idea and Ursula is genuinely menacing. The completely new setting also frees the character and the overall story to do its own thing away from its film origins, making it more a tribute with Ursula as a type of urban legend, and there are little easter eggs references sprinkled throughout for people to catch. How would a modern teen protagonist who lives in the regular world react to being haunted by Ursula? (In a non-meta world where The Little Mermaid doesn't appear to exist.) And what moves can she make in order to get one up over the dark trickster Ursula, who plays dirty in order to get what she wants?

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Twisted Tale

The Twisted Tale books are a series of "What-If" stories written by Liz Braswell, Elizabeth Lim, Jen Calonita, Farrah Rochon and Mari Mancusi. Each book posits that something in each film happened differently, and how that cascades into brand new problems that the characters have to face. A book based on The Little Mermaid, titled Part of Your World came out in September 2018. Thanks to Colin for letting me know about it when it was announced!

A Whole New World (2015)

Once Upon a Dream (2016)

    As Old as Time (2016)    

Reflection (2018)

Part of Your World (2018)

Mirror Mirror (2019)

Conceal Don't Feel (2019)

Straight on Till Morning (2020)

    So This is Love (2020)    

Unbirthday (2020)

Go the Distance (2021)

What Once Was Mine (2021)

Almost There (2022)

When You Wish Upon a Star (2023)

      Set in Stone (2023)      

Suddenly Super (2023)

A Twisted Tale Anthology (2023)

Fate be Changed (2024)

Princess of Thieves (2024)

Sally's Lament (2024)

Part of Your World: A Twisted Tale

In the What-If universe of Part of Your World, Scuttle never discovered the connection between Vanessa and Ursula on the wedding barge, Ariel never got the kick to chase after Eric, and Ursula won the deal outright. From there Ursula's plan succeeded at every angle: she kept Ariel's voice, she got Triton to trade his life for Ariel's, and Eric stayed under her enchantment.

The book opens five years later, where Ursula has been living on land as Princess Vanessa, wife of Mad Prince Eric. Ariel, still mute, has become Queen of the Sea as penance for having caused King Triton's death, and although she still has the trident, every attempt to meet Eric and get revenge on Ursula has been blocked. What triggers the change in the new status quo is Scuttle, once again being a lynchpin: it is he who discovers that Eric still remembers Ariel in the recesses of his cloudy memory, and that King Triton is actually alive. So it's up Ariel to gather her wits and find a way to rescue not only Triton and Eric, but also Eric's entire kingdom that's on the verge of collapse thanks to Ursula's manipulations.

Other covers of Liz Braswell's "Part of Your World"

It's an exciting story that spins off from the original in unexpected ways. Some of the character choices may not be what I'm personally interested in, such as Ariel being forced by her sisters to be queen despite being the youngest (Attina, what are you doing!) and Ursula finding more joy as a land princess instead of lording over all the ocean, but author Liz Braswell put a great deal of thought into these characterization choices and shows her work in the text. She's drawn a direct, visible line from the film that we know to this slightly different world with an older Ariel and Eric, both of them traumatized and matured from their losses.

Like other spin-offs from the 1989 film, Part of Your World attempts to add layers to the canon by introducing new names, places, and lore in fleshing out the world. Ariel having the trident as Queen seems like a coup, until the book establishes that its powers are limited by the moon and access to the ocean. Ursula's powers are further explored, too, as is the greater human world around Eric's kingdom and his mysteriously unseen parents, and how exactly merfolk feel about humans and other animals (including seagulls like Scuttle!) eating fish.

“You've become a queen, a woman with a complicated personality. You have hidden depths and a wisdom and intelligence that all went unnoticed before by an idiot prince whose heart couldn't listen to anything his ears couldn't hear.” - Eric to Ariel

What about the characters themselves? It's a subjective thing, and the very concept of the book requires everyone to be older and wiser, so they can't sound the same as their original film versions. But I think Braswell does a really good job keeping the essence of the characters intact, eg. Ariel may be world-weary and far more knowledgeable than she used to be, but she's still kind, curious to explore and highly driven to do things her own way. As for the others, Eric is a big 'ol dork who gets some fantastic moments to shine; Ursula is wonderfully mad, bad and devious; Flounder, Sebastian and Scuttle are their loyal, adorable selves; and even Grimsby and Carlotta get a hand in the plot machinations. The new characters all feel like organic introductions, too.

I think what this book really does well is that it stays sympathetic to the high drama of the original. New media tends to criticise what came before it, but although the book acknowledges that Ariel made choices she shouldn't have under emotional duress, it never loses sight of her being Ursula's victim, nor does it belittle the passions she had as a young mermaid. Ariel and Eric's reuniting and rekindling their relationship under very different and much more honest circumstances is wonderful, especially for how it echoes instead of overriding the love story of the film.

There are other little moments throughout that are charming throwbacks to the animated canon, from how Ariel's sisters have always thought of her as "strange", Eric can be just as reckless as Ariel, Ursula still has a dangerous love of dramatics, and even a very clever shoutout to the mother Ariel was shown to be in The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea -- whereby this Ariel knows more about herself, and she won't make that mistake with her own child one day.

Part of Your World: A Twisted Tale Graphic Novel

Four years after the publishing of Part of Your World: A Twisted Tale, it has reportedly become one of the more successful entries in the Twisted Tale series, and is the first in said series to be adapted into a graphic novel. The graphic novel, released in June 2023, is adapted by Stephanie Kate Strohm, and features illustrations by Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews.

I've put a little bit more information about this graphic novel over on the  comics page.

A Twisted Tale Anthology

A Twisted Tale Anthology (2023) is a collection of sixteen short stories in the style of the Twisted Tales main books, just bite-sized. Elizabeth Lim wrote the TLM-related short story, The Secret Exchange, which presents the What-If scenario where Eric wakes up sooner on the beach after Ariel rescues him, and the pair get to talk and introduce themselves.

So instead of Ariel swimming off and Eric being left with a mysterious memory of the girl who rescued him, Ariel and Eric strike up a tentative yet forbidden friendship, which is driven by fascination, curiosity of each other's world, and the growing flirtation-attraction between them. It's very sweet, though it also comes with a growing dread of awareness that Ariel's post-storm secret from her father is an even bigger one, and that Ursula is still watching and waiting for the time to strike.

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Villains

The Villains books are a series by Serena Valentino that focus on one villain per book, presenting unique backstories and motivations for said villains.

Strictly speaking, these books aren't full-on retellings of the films from the villains' points of view. Instead, the series takes place in an entirely new universe where all these characters and all their stories coexist, with many of them encountering each other in crossover. (Not unlike the ABC TV series Once Upon a Time).

I haven't read the whole series, but from what I gather, none of the books are standalones, but form a continuous uber-story across the books. A great deal of this story is centered around original characters that connect the books together, with the stories of the individual villains happening on top of those "main" arcs.

Fairest of All (2009)

The Beast Within (2014)

Poor Unfortunate Soul (2016)

Mistress of all Evil (2017)

Mother Knows Best (2018)

The Odd Sisters (2019)

Evil Thing (2020)

Cold Hearted (2021)

Never Never (2022)

Fire & Fate (2023)

Kill the Beast (2024)

The third book of the series is Poor Unfortunate Soul, which depicts Ursula as Triton's long-lost sister who was raised as a human in Ipswich, by a human father who'd found her as a "shipwrecked" child. She only discovered her true heritage when the townspeople of Ipswich turned on her and her father, causing her father's death and forcing her to escape into the ocean with Triton, who'd finally come to claim her. But Triton ultimately rejected her for choosing an octopus form instead of a mermaid's tail, and ousted her from the palace. So Ursula's out for old-fashioned revenge, and enlists the help of the Odd Sisters, i.e. witches who are connected to the other books of the series.

It's an unusual backstory to say the least, and a lot of it is told in dialogue from Ursula to others, for the book opens with her already being an evil sea witch firmly on her path of vengeance with the Odd Sisters to help her. The events of The Little Mermaid take just about half the actual content with the book, with the rest of it being about the Odd Sisters and other new characters of the universe, so I was rather lost and missing context from the previous books.

There are some nice tidbits here and here: Ariel is portrayed sympathetically, Athena is mentioned as having been Ursula's friend and protector, the power of the ocean was split between the trident and the sea shell (just like in the stage musical), and there's a surprisingly deep cut canon shoutout of Harold the Merman. But ultimately the TLM characters aren't all that recognisable, and Triton in particular suffers the most. Which I guess tends to happen in villain-sympathetic stories... If the villain can't be all that bad, someone else has to be worse.

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