The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall (Review)

Quote: She was not a creature of courage, but she was one of spite.
Cover image for The Mermaid, the Witch and the sea

“Love does not work in terms of convenience. Or any kind of sense.”

This one has been on my radar forever. Mermaids? Witches? Pirates? AND THEY’RE ALL QUEER? This book was made for me. I read this in a buddy read with a friend, and ended up finishing a day early because we just couldn’t stop reading. There was a lot of DM screaming while we read this book, and I think it actually raised my blood pressure at times.

Rating: 4 stars!

Thanks to Walker Books for the review copy of this book, it hasn’t affected my honest review.

Trigger Warnings: homophobia, off-screen rape, slavery, violence, loss of limb, death.

The plot:

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.

What did I think?

Reading this book was a genuinely stressful experience. Every single chapter I read, something new and terrifying happened to Evelyn and Flora. I would have thought I’d get sick of constant plot twists, but they’re executed so artfully that I just couldn’t look away from it. Stopping at our buddy read chapters each day was torture. The balance between emotional moments and exciting plot moments was perfect, honestly, and the POV characters were really well split. Each jump had me eager to find out happened to them next, and I adored the interludes from the sea herself. A lot happens in this book, which makes me think that this will be even better on the reread, and I’ll definitely come back to it in a few months to give it another read and it’ll probably emotionally wreck me even more than it did the first time.

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea is gloriously queer. I read a lot of queer books but I was still giddy at this one just because so many characters were non-cis. I was curious how a genderfluid main character would be portrayed without seeming gimmicky, but it felt very authentic to me and the moment where Flora realised that they could be Flora and Florian both was incredibly satisfying. However, I will point out that as a cis-woman, this isn’t my expertise and I hope that genderfluid and non-binary reviewers were also given the opportunity to read this book as I’d love to read their opinions on the rep. The sapphic romance was just perfection and I loved the way that Evelyn felt towards Flora/Florian. Their relationship felt so authentic and I’m so glad that we didn’t have to have any kind of gender/sexuality crisis from Evelyn as a response to Flora’s coming out.

The aesthetic of this book is just incredible and I’m obsessed with it. I would literally die for the Pirate Supreme without any hesitation. Xenobia is cool as all hell. The Sea herself might be my favourite character in the book. The characters in The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea are all heavily flawed and I cannot stress enough how that’s my favourite thing in books. Perfection is boring and overrated. Maggie Tokuda-Hall created a full cast of complex characters and I went through the emotional wringer falling in and out of love with them from page to page as their actions and motivations were exposed. I honestly cannot wait to see what she writes next because her character work is everything I’ve been looking for.

Links:

Add it on Goodreads here!

Buy at Hive if you can and support your local indie booksellers! Also available at Waterstones and Amazon.

2 thoughts on “The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall (Review)

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