Review: The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea

the mermaid the witch and the sea

Title: The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea
Author: Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 368
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: May 5, 2020

Summary: 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. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I’ve been excited to read The Mermaid, The Witch, and the Sea ever since I first heard about it. Mermaids, magic, and queer pirates? Hell yes. So I was over the moon happy to receive an ARC to review. It ended up being a fascinating read that I definitely have thoughts about, so let’s dive right into it!

The Mermaid, The Witch, and the Sea follows several POVs throughout the story, the primary two being the genderfluid pirate Florian and Lady Evelyn Hasegawa. Florian is a pirate on the ship Dove, a ship that sells its noble passengers into slavery — but when Florian is assigned to guard Evelyn, sparks fly and they end up escaping into a world of witches, military schemes, and yes, mermaids.

The story is incredibly ambitious, with all the attendant advantages and disadvantages of an ambitious story. The worldbuilding is vivid, and the plot takes a number of exciting turns. Imperialism, gender, and class differences are just a few of the topics explored, with varying degrees of nuance. (Content warning: There is homophobia and mentions of implied assault.)

At times, character moments that would have made the story more immersive were upstaged by worldbuilding exposition and flashbacks. The book’s title has a fairy tale feel to it, and the story itself feels like a fairy tale being told — in novel form. Personally, I found this style of storytelling a little difficult to get into, but if that sounds like something that would appeal to you, then this book is a must-read for you.

For fans of pirate adventures and mermaid tales, The Mermaid, The Witch, and the Sea belongs on your TBR pile. For readers who aren’t the biggest fans of pirate adventures, then this may not hold as much appeal for you. This was a promising read, and I’m looking forward to what Tokuda-Hall writes next!

Recommendation: Get it soon if you’re a fan of magical pirate adventures! If that doesn’t sound like your thing, then borrow it someday.

Further reading: Check out this Q&A with Maggie Tokuda-Hall at We Need Diverse Books!

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