This was just so brilliant and brutal, it will absolutely take you by the throat and not let go.
I was just not expecting to adore this book this much, and I’m so grateful it exists to grace our human eyes. It’s phenomenal. Definitely darker than YA usually dares to go, and yet so beautifully written. That contrast? I live for that kind of contrast.
both the world building and characters were incredible
Usually I find YA fantasy does one or the other, but we got both here? 🥺💛 My whole heart is aching. While I didn’t understand the full dynamics of the world (a lot happened off page, I felt) it was just so vast and dark and commanding. It also honed in to class separation, contrasting Evelyn’s life as nobility to Flora’s life literally in the muck and murder of the streets. Add in the chapters from Rake and the horror of a childhood where his town was taken over and colonised. (I wasn’t totally sure if the people groups were separated by fantasy-versions of our race, but the Empire was Japanese-fantasy inspired.)
would die for these characters!!
Well, for Flora and Evelyn!! The pirates on the other hand can go die by themselves!!! These aren’t your frolicsome robin-hood-esque pirates: these are marauding, evil, wickedness incarnate pirates. They murder, rape and pillage, and Flora is basically in a “cabin boy” (she goes by the name Florian) position along with her brother Alfie, because it was better than death on the streets.
The Dove is a ship that pretends to cart passengers to their destination, but halfway there, they stage an uprising and lock all their rich passengers in the brig and then sell them as slaves. It’s their running con. They also murder and drink mermaid blood as a kind of drug/alcohol.
Evelyn is the beautiful empire daughter, off to marry a rich unknown military husband. Flora is assigned to watch her so none of the men mess with her.
Together, they…💛💛💛😭😭 start feeling things. Their dynamic is teacher/student as Evelyn shows Flora how to read, and then they turn to friends, and then soft crushes, and then escapees and lovers. 🥺 They will ruin you with their soft, yearning love. They are each other’s safe place, but they also give each other this knowledge that they can be loved in this world that has always deemed them disgusting or unwanted.
“We don’t just read to imagine better lives. We read to be introduced to all kinds of lives. Any kind. Not just for ourselves, but for everyone around us. To understand others better. It’s escape, and it’s also a way to become more connected to everyone around you. There’s power in that, you know. In understanding. It’s like magic.”
Flora/Florian is Black and genderfluid (this is discussed on page!!), and mostly uses she/her pronouns though not always. Evelyn is Japanese (fantasy version) and maybe bisexual since she does crush on Flora as Florian too. Evelyn and Flora are so gentle together, challenging each other’s beliefs and privilege.
The story also has chapters by Rake (a pirate spy who secretly serves the Pirate Supreme and wants to take down the Dove and its twisted captain) and the Lady Aya and Genevieve who are also not who they seem. I actually liked their chapters too, because it rounded out the story and gave a lot more depth to the world. ALSO the Pirate Supreme is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns on page!! (Okay I am just SO EXCITED TO FINALLY READ AN UNAPOLOGETICALLY QUEER FANTASY.)
the story is…
Brutal, beautiful, gallant, tragic, hopeful. It’s literally got everything, including the witches and mermaids in the title! It does NOT spare you, but it won’t leave you gutted like poor gasping fish either (well, mostly 😌😙) The middle did get a bit slow though, and the witchy section confused me a bit, but honestly pfft @ my two braincells. I marched on and loved it.
But I will say that Alfie deserved way way better and I would cry for him. He was too soft for this world, and I ached that Flora sort of despised him for it. I would totally take a spin-off about Alfie!!
tl;dr list of why to read this
- queer romance of softness and yearning
- nonbinary and genderfluid rep
- dark, despicable pirates
- sea voyages and island stays
- complex sibling relationship 🥺
- that time Evelyn gets a gun and shoots someone and Flora just goes 😍😍😍
“I was aiming for his heart,” Evelyn admitted a little sheepishly.
Evelyn. Evelyn with a pistol! Flora felt a strange pride billowing in her heart. She wanted to take Evelyn in her arms and kiss her the way a pirate out to be kissed.
Thanks Walker Books AUS for the ARC! The Mermaid, The Witch, And the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall comes out Sept 2, 2020.
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.
do you like pirate or sea-themed books? any favourites? 👀 also tell me if you’ve read/want to read this one!