Synopsis: 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. (Goodreads)
Publication Date: May 5th, 2020 (Candlewick Press)
Genres: YA, Fantasy
Trigger Warnings: trauma, violence, substance abuse and addiction, torture
The Story and Plot
I picked up this book based on the synopsis and even then I don’t think anyone could have prepared me for what happened in this book. It was unique and mixed with themes of mermaid lore, magic and ship politics. As the synopsis says, the story is about Flora, who disguises as Florian to earn the respect of the crew aboard the ship, Dove. The passengers who come on this ship are unsuspecting victims of slavery. Then comes Lady Evelyn Hasegawa who is being shipped off to her husband. Florian is attracted to Evelyn and they soon find themselves bonding. Florian is navigating between her duty and her heart when certain events happen and then the story moves forward.
The plot was unpredictable and you never really know what’s going to happen next which keeps you invested and doesn’t bore you. I do not want to say much about the book lest I give away spoilers but the things you can expect from the plot is a Witch, a Pirate Supreme and the Sea itself, which play like actual characters in the story. It was really well-done and I fell in love with the way the story was wrote.
The two main characters were Flora, who disguised herself as Florian and Evelyn who was a noblewoman travelling on the ship. They were well-fleshed out characters with really well explored character arcs. This book took both of these characters on a self identity journey to discover and more importantly accept themselves.
Flora was a street urchin along with her brother and they both were accepted on the Dove to be members of the crew. She pretends to be Florian as she is only woman on board and needs to earn the respect of the crew. She quickly climbs ranks and it is only when she meets Evelyn does she start evaluating her life. The character arc was simply amazing. Flora is a hustler and the kind of person who never gives up. Her strength is admirable.
Evelyn was a noblewoman whose parents have neglected her their whole life. As she comes of age, they arrange her marriage to a high ranking official in another place far away. Evelyn was kind and it was this kindness through which Florian and she bonded. She was resilient in the face of danger and you can clearly feel the growth she goes through from a scared noblewoman to a brave person.
Their relationship was full of mutual pining and it was so good! It was beautiful to see them together and their relationship arc was just *chef’s kiss*. There are other characters as well which play an important role and their backgrounds have also been told but it never feels like an information dump at any point. Everything progresses naturally which makes this a good read.
Beautiful Writing Style
The writing style was so beautiful. There are definitely moments when I was so in love with the writing. The writing also gave the perfect vibes for the book: magical with a hint of suspense and intrigue mixed with the sea journey magic. This was my favourite part of the book.
Good exploration of various narratives
The book apart from exploring Flora and Evelyn’s journeys also explored various other themes. It has a nuanced exploration of colonialism and imperialism, class differences and misogyny. It also focuses on substance abuse, alcohol addiction and trauma and how it affects people’s lives. There are also themes of self-discovery, sacrifice, ambition and survival. It is the story of a genderfluid black pirate and a queer Japanese noblewoman and it is done so well.
If it hasn’t been clear till now I loved this book. But the last few chapters truly blew me away. I read them without stopping and I did not even realise when it ended. It was smooth and it was awesome. This is exactly the kind of book which leaves you happy with the ending but also leaves you with wanting more.
Overall, The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea was absolutely stunning in its story, its characters, its writing and the vibes. If you’re searching for a book with magic, mermaids, pirates, witches, love and resilience, this is the perfect book for you! I would definitely recommend it! Buddy read this wonderful book with my wonderful friend Lili from Utopia State of Mind!
Thank you to Candlewick Press for providing an eARC through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
Have you read this book?
Do you like books with mermaids and pirates? Tell me about it!!