The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea

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Pub Date 3 Sep 2020 | Archive Date 21 Dec 2020

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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.

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...

Advance Praise

“The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea will take you on the journey of a lifetime. Maggie Tokuda-Hall has created characters I’ve never seen before, then put them in an adventure that feels more real than real life and twice as unpredictable. I wanted to live in the world of this book forever, and I can’t stop obsessing about the rich tapestry of pirates, mermaids, witches, and conniving nobles who inhabit it. The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea might just remind you of why you fell in love with adventure in the first place and change how you think about the genre forever. I envy anyone who’s getting to experience this incredible book for the first time.” Charlie Jane Anders, author of the Nebula Award–winning novel All the Birds in the Sky

"Careful prose juxtaposes gentleness and brutality, contrasting the tender emotions between Flora/Florian and Evelyn and the violence of a pirate’s life. Set against the backdrop of colonial expansion, this nautical fantasy goes beyond mere swashbuckling to examine the impacts of imperialism and misogyny on a diverse cast of varying ethnicities, sexualities, and gender identities. Witches, mermaids, and secret operatives add layers of magic and intrigue to the queer romance at the heart of this book...Absolutely enthralling."  Kirkus Reviews (Starred review)

"Queer, diverse pirate romance with mermaids and magic is pretty much everything you could want from a summer read in 2020. The cover makes this look like it skews on the younger end of the YA spectrum, but in fact it is full of violence and double-crosses and kissing. It's an imaginative and adventurous debut that leaves enough questions and loose ends to make one hope for another story set in this world." NPR 

“The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea will take you on the journey of a lifetime. Maggie Tokuda-Hall has created characters I’ve never seen before, then put them in an adventure that feels more real...

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ISBN 9781406395501
PRICE £7.99 (GBP)

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Featured Reviews

I really like this book, a great story and plot. The charac where likable and the world buloding was great.

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Lady Evelyn Hasegawa is being shipped off with her coffin full of books to a far away land and her arranged marriage to a man she’s never met. Flora has taken on the identity of Florian on board the pirate ship, the Dove where strength, brutality and courage are essential for survival. As Florian guards Evelyn’s cabin, the two form an unlikely bond and discover they have more in common than they first thought; most notably a rebellious spirit. The pair strive for freedom from their imposed destinies and justice for the true and good in the world. On their mission they rescue mermaids, escape Imperial guards, are told folktales and taught magic by a witch and ultimately find true love in the powerful arms of the sentient sea. I loved the twists and turns the story took; the espionage, the fight to end colonialism and capitalism. The witch telling folk tales made my heart sing, I love stories within a story, particularly when it’s done as well as this. Maggie Tokuda Hall writes beautifully, weaving a rich tapestry and tangible fantasy world. This captivating, queer, swashbuckling adventure had me turning pages non stop! I’m not a big YA fantasy reader but this one has me hankering for more. There’s so many characters and adventures within this novel that I world love to go back to. The mermaids, the witch and the sea all deserve a sequel to come into life once again! I shall definitely be recommending this book, I loved it! Thanks to @netgalley and @walkerbooksuk for my eARC. Published in the UK on..... 3rd September!

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Thank you to Net Galley for sending me this eARC in exchange for an honest review. This book follows the 2 main characters Flora/ Florian, and Evelyn as they come together aboard a pirate ship where Florian is trying to survive as a pirate and keep her brother safe, while Evelyn is an aristocrat attempting to rebel against an arranged marriage. The story takes them on a fast paced, thrilling adventure in which they try and escape The Dove, save a mermaid and traverse The Sea. What I Liked: Characters. This was an impressive book in that it was both character and plot based. Sometimes fantasy books can sacrifice developing characters for the sake of plot, however this was not the case here. Instead, both Flora and Evelyn were nuanced characters with a complex history and understandable motives. Not only are the protagonists well fleshed out, the supporting cast has a wide range of interesting and unique personalities. I particularly enjoyed the character, Rake, as his backstory and the choices he made were intriguing and original. I felt very attached to the characters and they evoked many emotions in me. Themes. This was a very dark book for YA in terms of the topics it tackles and I really enjoyed the discussions around these under represented subjects. It looks at the ramifications of sexual abuse, substance abuse, the class system and how hard survival can be for the lower classes, the impact of colonialism and gender fluidity and discovering your identity. All these topics were so well discussed especially considering this is a stand alone fantasy novel. None of the themes felt rushed or underdeveloped. World building. The book created a magical and brutal atmosphere that was a brilliant setting for the story. I loved the personification of The Sea and the chapters that were "from" The Sea were unique. What I Didn't Like: Pacing. Despite this being a relatively short book, the first third of the novel felt slow and hard to get through, whereas the final third was extremely engaging and emotional. This meant that I much preferred the second half and I felt a lot could have been cut out of the first half. Overall, this was an extremely impressive debut with tangible characters and beautiful world building and imagery. I loved that it didn't shy away from difficult themes and the atmosphere it created did a fantastic job of pulling you into a world of pirate brutality, adventure, and magic.

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Let not the beautifully whimsical cover fool you, The Mermaid, The Witch and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda- Hall is not afraid to address dark or difficult themes and is definitely not for younger readers. The book follows the adventures of Flora/Florian, a young orphan girl who assumes a male persona to gain a spot on a vicious slaver's crew, along with her brother. Life on the sea is often harsh and she finds herself having to do things she never thought possible in order to blend in and survive. The slavers use a clever trick, masquerading as a passenger vessel , they entice passengers on board and then wait until they are out to sea before revealing their true purpose. On this latest voyage the Imperial Lady Evelyn is travelling to the home of her future husband, and Florian is assigned to guard her, as the Captain hopes to sell or ransom her for a very high price. Evelyn and Florian begin to develop an unlikely friendship, which is further cemented by their determination to free a mermaid the crew have captured to sell for her blood which has magical qualities. They decide to make a break for it, and set into motion a daring escape plan. I was initially drawn to this book by the cover, and who doesn't enjoy a sea adventure every now and then, but I have to say this book really exceeded my expectations. I thought the setting was interesting and enjoyed the world the author had created, but what really kept me engaged were the characters, not just Flora/ian and Evelyn, but others like the pirate Rake, the mysterious Pirate Supreme and most interestingly of all, the Sea itself. Making the Sea a character, and allowing brief chapters from it's perspective was a brave and unique idea and one that I thought worked very well. The pacing of the book was good, plenty of twists and turns and lots of suspense, though it did slow down a little in the middle. I thought the ending was perfect, while not exactly a traditional happy ending , it was perfect for the complex story being told, and the characters involved. I read and reviewed an ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher, all opinions are my own. .

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Thank you to Netgalley and Walker books for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. I chose this book simply based on the synopsis and the gorgeous cover art. I expected it to be a standard YA read, perhaps edging on middle grade but wow was I wrong! This novel contains all the gritty bits of a Pirate’s life and is as far from Neverland pirates and mermaids as you can get. The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea centres around the relationship between a high-born, queer, Japanese-inspired noblewoman, Evelyn and a pirate named Florian who is secretly a girl named Flora, disguising themself in order to gain the respect of their crew mates. Evelyn and Florian instantly capture the heart of the reader. They are such an unlikely match and from completely different worlds but the way that Maggie Tokuda-Hall throws these two characters together and alternates chapters between their perspectives is so compelling. The secret attraction and the pining between Evelyn and Florian can literally be felt through the pages. These two are guaranteed to stay with you long after the book is finished. In fact, the majority of Tokuda-Hall’s cast of characters are so well developed: we have Rake, the first mate who is a very closed character and keeps his own intentions close to his chest for most of the novel. We have a gender-fluid Pirate Supreme, an imperialist noblewoman who can kick ass and Flora’s brother Alfie, a tortured soul whose traumatic past is alluded to often. The portrayal of mermaids in the novel is nothing short of inspired: hunted and captured for the properties their blood possesses, mermaids are quite ugly when imprisoned by pirates. These mythical creatures that are renowned for their beauty are only conventionally beautiful in the presence of their loving mother: The Sea. The Sea in turn will do whatever she can to protect her children, and will always reward those who help. The other pirates are, as you would expect, a group of shady characters but they do not fade into the background at all. Tokuda-Hall reveals right from the beginning the true intentions of this crew and it creates an underlying tension throughout the whole voyage upon The Dove. The twists, secrets and revelations onboard that ship are captivating and create a page-turning first half of the book. I will say that during the middle of the book, mainly during “The Witch” section, the pace slowed dramatically and it just didn’t flow as much. I almost wanted more treachery and more suspense from the witch, more struggle by Evelyn and, dare I say, more pining from Evelyn and Florian. Their relationship up to this point had been so intense and slow burning that it almost seemed to cool a little. I also feel that not quite enough was made of Evelyn’s discovery about the real reason behind her voyage. It was almost a convenient way for that side of her story to be resolved. Similarly, with Florian/Flora; their evolution from Pirate to Witch seemed quite acceptable and tame. These factors, in my opinion, affected the ending of the novel where everything seemed quite rushed in its efforts to tie up all loose ends. Please don’t misunderstand, I LOVED the ending and how Evelyn and Flora/Florian finished their journey. I even shed a few tears. However, it was the lead up to this that just seemed too convenient and too quick. Overall this is a wonderfully dark pirate novel that instantly creates a world full of magic and wonder whilst tackling the issues of identity, colonialism, homophobia, poverty and rape. A world where gender-fluid and queer characters fight against injustice alongside endangered mermaids and the Sea is to be respected almost as a deity. I cannot believe that this is merely Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s debut novel! I cannot wait to see where she takes us next!

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This was an interesting read. I’ve never read anything pirate-y before so that was a new and fascinating aspect for me, and I really enjoyed the variety and complexity of the characters. There was some gorgeous language used which gave the story an exciting and magical feel as well as adding authenticity. The only thing I didn’t like was the ending; it felt a bit rushed and I thought the outcome of the Flora/Evelyn storyline was not a satisfying one at all and seemed a bit random. I absolutely loved the chapters that were from the sea’s point of view though.

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I won't lie - I mostly loved this for the fantastic queer relationship between a genderfluid Black pirate and queer Japanese noblewoman, The pining THE PINING. Boy, the author packed a lot of different themes and storylines into this book and I'm not complaining as i never felt too much for one book. I was also glad to see this is potentially a stand alone instead of a series - we love to see it. I will say there was a point in the book (part two in particular) where the book dipped and I was like oh no please no - I don't want to lose interest. Thankfully - it quickly picked up again and I was here for it. I was about to be SO MAD at the ending but my god WHAT A TURN AROUND ~ I loved it. A great YA debut!

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Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for providing me with a copy of this book. This... was a wild ride. There was darkness and light and hate and love and I adored every second I read this book. First of all, the story is so brilliantly structured. Without wanting to spoil too much, it is fantastic how the events always relate to the part they are set in. Especially because we start out on a pirate ship and we end on a pirate ship and it just feels as thought the story has come full circle. Absolute master piece. The different POV's are everything. I love when books offer different POV's, but often it's difficult to keep the voices apart. Even if I would have put the book down for a day in the middle of a chapter, I would have immediately known whose voice I was reading and that was phenomenal. I immediately fell in love with the characters (well, the important ones anyway) and they were so loveable but flawed and it is everything I need from a well rounded character and story. The diversity - not only racial but also sexuality and gender wise was great and I loved seeing a non-binary/female love story in this. I just can implore everyone to read this book. It is absolutely brilliant and if you like fantasy, you will adore this with all your heart. There are some darker moments in here but hey, it's a story about pirates. What do we expect? This book couldn't be anything other but five stars for me.

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Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I devoured it in one evening, and my thoughts keep returning to it over a day later. Tokuda-Hall’s writing is beautiful, really enrapturing from the first minute, building a very real world for us to reside in with these characters. The characters themselves are wonderful. Flawed, diverse and resilient; the perfect sort of heroes. I was absolutely blown away by the representation of queer and gender nonconforming characters, particularly by a very real conversation about the pronouns used by one particular character. I am even more pleased that they are not the only character whose pronouns are discussed. However, there were some aspects of the book which did grind with me. For one, this didn’t seem to fit into any sort of aged category; not quite old enough to be teenage, not quite young enough for middle grade. I absolutely adore its unapologetic realness and rawness, but I couldn’t help but feel that it fluctuated between childish tales and incredibly mature themes. My second gripe is that the last part of the book felt rushed. The beginning of the book is slow and thoughtful, really drawn out and the world built beautifully, but in the last quarter of the book everything changes. Characters appear then disappear seemingly without much impact (the witch in particular puzzled me a little), a relationship blooms without all that much build up, and all of their immediate problems are fixed. It felt slightly off kilter, at odds with the rest of the book. But other than the fact that it doesn’t always mesh flawlessly, it was wonderful. As I said, the first part of the book is beautiful. I don’t usually enjoy books with multiple points of view, but I felt Tokuda-Hall wrote each of them realistically, with each of them being distinctly different with different thought styles. The story itself is one of love and adventure, with colonialism and sexism making important appearances, giving the world an in-depth history and real-world element. The ending is in no way predictable, which is pleasantly surprising, and it leaves the reader a little sad, but in no way displeased. As previously mentioned, not everything gels together all that well, but ignoring the minor detours, the plot as a whole is fun and exciting with just the right amount of intrigue. In essence, the storytelling and the description are wildly refreshing, as well as the frequent “interludes”, which take nothing from the pace of the story itself. It was lyrical and poetic and so very different to so many books I have read in the genre, I really would recommend giving it a read if you are at all interested in books for young people.

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