“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.”
The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea, the debut novel by author Maggie Tokuda-Hall, is a rich and thrilling young adult fantasy adventure novel set in an alternate world where magic is real.
It follows Flora/Florian, an orphaned pirate and Evelyn, a rebellious imperial daughter, as they navigate magic, pirates, witches and the sea herself.
Maggie Tokuda-Hall takes her readers on a swashbuckling adventure, with thrills and plot twists almost every chapter, through a violent world divided by colonialism and threaded with magic.
The story follows two unlikely allies: an orphan turned pirate hiding (and discovering) her gender identity, and a rebellious imperial young woman facing an arranged marriage.
Together, they must confront the cost of violence from every conceivable angle as they navigate their way through the high seas and try to save a captured mermaid.
With danger lurking around every corner, the pair must overcome their differences and fight against the oppressive Nipran Empire in order to save themselves and those they love.
Content Warnings: violence & death (including ‘off-screen’ rape), homophobia, and slavery.
The book is crammed with fearsome and flawed characters. From Flora/Florian, who’s journey to understand herself and come to terms with her identity is beautifully touching, and Evelyn, who appears to be a haughty imperial, but shows a strength of character that impressed even the sea.
Flora is a brave and resourceful orphan who has been living on the sea since she was young. She is determined to stick with her brother Alfie as they fight for a better life. Evelyn is a rebellious imperial daughter who has been sheltered from the outside world for most of her life. Despite their differences in background, both girls form an unlikely bond which blossoms into something more.
Because this is a book teeming with magic, there are also the titular characters of the mermaid, the witch, and the sea, all of whom are were beautifully portrayed. The entire cast is diverse and exciting, and adds to the beautiful aesthetic and complex layers of world-building.
Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s writing style is vivid and descriptive, with plenty of action scenes that keep readers engaged throughout the book. She also does an excellent job of creating believable characters with complex motivations that make them feel real to readers. Her use of language brings this alternate world to life in a way that makes it easy for readers to imagine themselves in it.
Although, the book was a little slow-paced at the beginning and it took a while to get into the flow. There were plenty of twists and cliffhangers to pull me in, but I had no trouble sticking to just one chapter at a time.
Themes & Ideas
The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea explore themes such as imperialism, colonialism, gender identity, classism, family dynamics, loyalty vs betrayal and more. It examines how these issues can shape people’s lives in different ways, while also showing how individuals can take control of their own destinies despite oppressive systems or circumstances beyond their control.
There are plenty of queer characters and explorations of gender identity, as well as characters from different classes, places, and even powerful magical characters, adding to the exploration of status in the world.
Tokuda-Hall doesn’t back down from themes of violence and misogyny, and is willing to show the brutal side of piracy, juxtaposed with the tender exploration of Flora/Florian and Evelyn’s romance.
The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall is a thrilling adventure packed with complex characters, vivid writing style, and thought-provoking themes. It’s an exciting dive into a world filled with magic, colonialism, gender identity struggles and more. Whether you’re looking for action or romance, this book has something for everyone to enjoy With its captivating storyline that can keep readers engaged until the very end, The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea is definitely worth checking out if you love fantasy novels.