I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again but the holy trinity of fantasy is as follows:
I’m a simple girl and I know what I like. Books that feature any of these three elements automatically get put on the tbr, or if I’m feeling impatient get read immediately. So, imagine my excitement when I found a book that had not one, but two of golden fantasy elements. There might have been some light screaming going on.
Book: The Mermaid, The Witch, and the Sea
Author: by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Published May 5th 2020 by Candlewick Press
Battle, Death, Forced Marriage, Homophobia, Imprisonment, Murder, Physical violence, Racism, Rape (off page), Sexism, Slavery and human trafficking, Torture
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. (from Goodreads)
From the very first chapter I was hooked. The Mermaid, The Witch, and The Sea truly starts off with a bang with a murder in the first chapter. There were so many unique and exciting elements going on, and never a dull moment.
If anything there is too much going on. There were four perspectives with multiple types of magic and it wasn’t balanced very well. Most of this can be attributed to the format of the book.
There were three sections of the book (each corresponding with a part of the title). The first part centralized around the mermaid, the second the witch, and the third the sea. Those three clearly defined parts made the whole book feel really choppy. There were three mini arcs going on and all of them left more to be desired. Honestly, anyone of them could have stood on their own, but instead they were smooshed together in one big confusion fusion.
Personally, I found the witch story to be the most interesting, so I would have loved if that angle was more developed and focused on instead of the juggling act we have going on. By introducing a new “story” during each part, the magic system and worldbuilding started over. So when each new element was introduced there was heavy amount of infodumping.
Both of the main characters, Flora and Evelyn left a bit underdeveloped. I found Flora’s development slightly more interesting, but even then I never felt super invested in either of them. Again, too many components were being juggled and it left the character development a bit undercooked.
And the insta-love?? It was strong with this one. Flora and Evelyn’s relationship plays a big role in the ending of the book (more on that in a second), but because it didn’t have a strong foundation I wasn’t emotionally invested. They needed more time to get to know each other and slowly build up some mutual trust, but noooo we decided to just skip over that part.
Ok, back to the ending. The ending was highly reliant on the hope that the reader would be emotionally invested in Flora and Evelyn’s relationship. I imagine it is supposed to be this grand emotional ending, meant to both break your heart but also warm it a bit in the end. But I felt strangely neutral about it??? I was never invested in their relationship, so when the gut-wrenching ending decided to waltz in I just… didn’t care.
Umm so this review is coming across as really negative. I did enjoy some parts of the book, I promise! I really enjoyed the pirates, Flora’s character arc, and the commentary of colonialism, imperialism, and misogyny. Sadly, some of these more positive components were overshadowed by parts that weren’t my cup of tea.
Overall, The Mermaid, The Witch, and The Sea had bucketfuls of potential, but felt short. Development as a whole would have greatly impacted my enjoyment of the story, but sadly it was severely lacking. That being said, if you are looking for a unique format and some good ole pirates, then this book might be worth a shot.
Have you read The Mermaid, The Witch, and the Sea?? What did you think of it??