✨Age Range: Young adult
✨Publication Date: 5th May, 2020
✨Publisher: Candlewick Press
✨Format I Read: Kindle e-book
✨Content Warning: Violence, substance abuse, colonialist attitudes, torture and gore
A desperate orphan turned pirate and a rebellious imperial daughter find a connection on the high seas in a world divided by colonialism and threaded with magic.
Aboard the pirate ship Dove, Flora the girl takes on the identity of Florian the man to earn the respect and protection of the crew. For Flora, former starving urchin, the brutal life of a pirate is about survival: don’t trust, don’t stick out, and don’t feel. But on this voyage, as the pirates prepare to sell their unsuspecting passengers into slavery, Flora is drawn to the Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, who is en route to a dreaded arranged marriage with her own casket in tow. Flora doesn’t expect to be taken under Evelyn’s wing, and Evelyn doesn’t expect to find such a deep bond with the pirate Florian.
Soon the unlikely pair set in motion a wild escape that will free a captured mermaid (coveted for her blood, which causes men to have visions and lose memories) and involve the mysterious Pirate Supreme, an opportunistic witch, and the all-encompassing Sea itself.
Characters and Representation in The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea
Individually, both the main characters really impressed me. Evelyn was determined and smart, who never let her circumstances steal away her agency. She was a product of her privileged upbringing but was willing to be better.
I appreciated Flora’s grit and stubbornness. There was a lot of emotional conflict exacerbated by their tragic backstory but they never wavered. It was nice to see this character grow and come into their own.
However, their romance didn’t win me over – it felt a bit forced at times. My favourite part was all the diversity in this wide range of characters. Even though I’m not #OwnVoices for any of the rep, it was nice to see a Black gender-fluid pirate and an Imperial queer character as the titular characters.
Plot and World-Building in The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea
The plot had some really good elements but ultimately wasn’t very coherent as a whole. I was surprised by the twists and turns but wanted more of that. It felt like a few different stories sewn together and I wish the transitions had been smoother.
The magic system was really cool and even though it was familiar, I hadn’t come across a book that employed magic this way in a long time. I really liked the role the Sea played in all of this and the powers of the mermaids. Florian’s training sequence was good and I would have loved if there had been more of that.
The world-building was done really well and I enjoyed all of the aspects. The pirates in this reminded me of my old favourite, Pirates of the Caribbean. The various myths and stories sprinkled throughout the narrative brought the world alive in my mind.
Writing Style and Themes in The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea
In the beginning, the writing style took some getting used to. I think the author wrote the more fantastical and magical elements well but the action sequences didn’t make as much of an impact on me. However, I would be willing to read more books by her for sure.
Coming to the themes, I really liked how this story chose to comment on Japanese imperialism. While there are several stories exploring white colonialism, I was very glad to see this dissecting a less-explored part of history. Even though we get the point of view of a Japanese royal, I thought it was done tastefully without centering the oppressor’s narrative.
The only complaint I had with this was that it could have delved deeper into some of the other themes. It didn’t do a good enough job of discussing slavery that one of the main characters was complicit in. It could have also put more emphasis on the substance abuse and how it affected Flora’s relationship with their brother.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea but couldn’t help but notice some of the technical flaws in it. However, I think anybody who loved Keira Knightley’s character in the Pirates of the Caribbean would definitely appreciate this book because it gave me the same vibes. If you are drawn towards fast-paced and thrilling plots, this may not be the book for you.
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Would you add this book to your TBR? Do you like pirate stories or sea voyages? What is your favourite myth or folklore about the sea? Let me know in the comments section down below. Hope you are having a magical week, readers from Earth!