The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea

Maggie Tokuda-Hall

The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea
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The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea

Maggie Tokuda-Hall

In a world divided by colonialism and threaded with magic, a desperate orphan turned pirate and a rebellious imperial lady find a connection on the high seas.

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, Flora is drawn to the Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, who is headed to an arranged marriage she dreads. 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. Neither expects to fall in love.

Soon the unlikely pair set in motion a wild escape that will free a captured mermaid (coveted for her blood) and involve the mysterious Pirate Supreme, an opportunistic witch, double agents, and the all-encompassing Sea herself.

Deftly entwining swashbuckling action and quiet magic, Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s inventive debut novel conjures a diverse cast of characters seeking mastery over their fates while searching for answers to big questions about identity, power, and love.

Review

Flora has been living on the pirate ship Dove as the boy Florian, along with her brother Alfie, her only living family. Life on the Dove is brutal – for the well-heeled passengers, who are informed mid-journey that they are to be sold off as slaves, and for the crew, who are expected to carry out violent orders from first mate Rake and the drug-addled Nameless Captain. Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, an upper-class Imperial girl, comes onto the ship expecting to be delivered to the Floating Islands and her fiancé by arrangement. Florian is asked to protect Evelyn, Evelyn insists on teaching Florian to read, and the two young people slowly, irretrievably fall in love. As the situation on the Dove grows ever more dangerous, as a captured mermaid drifts closer to death, Florian and Evelyn escape in a perilously small rowboat.

This enchanting fantasy novel is set in a non-Eurocentric world, where a dominant imperial power has colonised most territories. It’s a world where people drink mermaid’s blood and lose their memories, where secret operatives work for the mysterious Pirate Supreme, and where witches use storytelling to cast spells. This gripping and elegant debut novel employs a perfectly balanced blend of high-seas action, romance, moral complexity and unique takes on familiar fantasy tropes.

At the very heart of the story is bigender Flora/Florian and Evelyn’s battle for freedom, independence and love. It’s a battle that isn’t resolved until the final pages, and the ending is as strange, touching and beautiful as the story itself. For ages 13+.


Leanne Hall is the children’s specialist for Readings online. She also writes books for children and young adults.

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