Calling everyone interested in a queer pirate story! It’s a book that promises and delivers everything in the title! Seriously. I saw the author, Tokuda-Hall, describe it like that and it’s so true! Keep reading this book review to find out all the reasons I loved The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea!
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.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
I am obsessed with pirate books. And all things mermaid. So when a book is called, The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea you know immediately I am going to pick it up. There’s this absolutely wonderful balance between character growth and action as both Evelyn and Florian have to figure out who they want to be. Evelyn’s mother keeps telling her that she’s basically worth nothing and so seeing her grow as a character was so satisfying.
At the same time, I was immediately drawn to Florian and this pirate lifestyle, but also to Florian’s careful observation of what moral costs he is willing to overlook and must make to survive. I wanna add that they’re both queer – Flora is gender fluid and black and Evelyn is queer and Japanese. Their relationship is just so absolutely tender and heart warming! The way that Evelyn teaches Florian to read and the power of reading, warmed my social distanced heart.
So while The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea features some very tender character growth – as they have to re-evaluate their life choices and fix their mistakes – it also has tons of action. There is exploration of colonialism and imperialism as Florian and Evelyn’s story feed into a larger plot. We are immersed in a world of pirates, oaths, and witches. Yes, there are witches and mermaids! And not the mermaids who just brush their hair (although hair care is important) but the ones with some sharp teeth! I love me some mermaids.
Evelyn and Florian have to fight for their survival. Not only of their own lives, but any hope of their relationship. What can just two people do against the current? Divided into parts, you can see the effortless transition as well as the way the world blooms on the pages. In the second half, we are taken on twists and turns, traveling great distances, to unravel the broader political implications. The way that there has been rampant imperialism and the ways it has impacted the characters.
The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea is a book that looks at the power of stories and magic, belief and history. It’s a story that examines the price of power and ambition. All magic comes at a cost. The freedom and power of letting stories into our hearts and beliefs. It also had an ending that had me gasping aloud at how masterful the writing is. Seriously. When you get to the end, message me.