The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
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.
I really liked that this was a darker story than I usually find with pirates and mermaids.
Florian was born Flora. Flora and her older brother, Alfie, were orphans that were desperate for a place to go. They found a ship, The Dove, and had to prove themselves worthy to be a part of it. Flora had to be Florian and hide that she was born a girl. Flora did feel like Florian a lot, too. The captain of the ship was a horrible man. So was a man named Fawkes. Alfie was still traumatized by what Fawkes did to him. The Dove was no ordinary ship. They took in people as a passenger ship. Once they were on the sea, they took them as prisoners and it became a slave ship. They could sell them for a good price. Another thing they could sell was a mermaid. Mermaid’s blood was highly desired. Men would drink the blood and slowly forget things. The Nameless Captain drank so much that he can’t remember his own name. The Sea did not like when her mermaids were captured and she would punish anyone who drank from them.
Evelyn was an Imperial with parents that never really loved her. They were quick to send her off to get married. She was to be on The Dove for five to six months before she would meet the man meant to be her husband. Evelyn was excited to leave, but she wasn’t sure about being married to a man. Her father caught her kissing a girl right before she left. It wasn’t ok for Imperials. On the ship, Florian is tasked to guard Lady Evelyn from Fawkes. Florian hated Imperials, but Evelyn was hard to hate. She started teaching Florian how to read and they spent almost all their time together. Florian realized that he was falling in love with Evelyn, but Evelyn didn’t know the real Florian. He wasn’t sure he knew the real Florian. When away from the boat, she went by Flora. But both felt right.
Things don’t go well and Florian and Evelyn escape along with a captured mermaid. They save the mermaid and the Sea rewarded them with help. They washed up on a shore and was taken to the witch. Florian was hurt and not awake. Evelyn was sent off to her fiance. Flora woke up and thought Evelyn left on her own. She was upset and confused. The witch decided to teach Flora to be a witch, too. Witches were thought to be evil and gone, but Xenobia was still alive. She taught Flora that magic had a price. She had to give something to get something.
Most of the chapters were Evelyn or Flora, but there were a handful with other characters. There were interludes that were the Sea which I loved so much. She was powerful and controlled pretty much everything in the sea. The Pirate Supreme was loyal to the see and the mermaids. He wanted to take The Dove at some point and had an operative on board. That captain and his crew killed too many mermaids.
The book flowed really well with three parts: The Mermaid, The Witch, and The Sea. I thought the pacing was good and I definitely adored both Flora and Evelyn. There were a lot of characters to hate and some twists and betrayals. Overall, I really loved this.
I gave this book 4 1/2 stars rounded up to 5. Thank you to Candlewick Press for my review copy.
Warnings for implied sexual assault, torture, blood, death, addiction, slavery, colonialism. I may be forgetting a couple things. The book definitely has some dark topics.
Have you read this yet? Is it on your TBR?