The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
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+.