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The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea

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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.

360 pages, Hardcover

First published May 5, 2020

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About the author

Maggie Tokuda-Hall

8 books622 followers
Maggie Tokuda-Hall is the author of Also an Octopus, The Mermaid the Witch and the Sea, and Squad.

You can read her writing for adults in her column for Catapult Magazine (Fear and Loathing in Utero), and her fiction on The Rumpus, Joyland Magazine, and Columbia Journal for Literature and the Arts.

She lives in Oakland, California with her husband, son, and objectively perfect dog.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,609 reviews
Profile Image for may ➹.
470 reviews1,894 followers
August 4, 2020
— find this review and others on my blog!

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea follows a pirate named Flora/Florian and an aristocratic lady named Evelyn. Their paths intertwine on the Dove, a pirate ship, and when they fall in love, they must escape, deal with witches, the Sea, spies, mermaids, and more.

It is with a heavy heart that I must admit that the face in the sea on the cover—which I will never stop pointing out, by the way—is exactly what I look like right now: sad, vaguely whiny-looking, and most of all, ugly. (That’s in general, though, not from the book.)

The more power they gave, the higher the price. That was their power, but it was their burden as well.

I’m going to start out with the positives! Because I’d like to begin on a good note before I start, you know, completely dissing it.

This book has a lot of good commentary on colonialism, imperialism, and misogyny! The setting is inspired by our world, specifically as Japan being the colonizer/imperialist force. It also has some great representation, with a Japanese-coded sapphic main character and a Black genderfluid main character!

I also was not expecting this to be a story on the darker side—and I loved it!!! (Whatever that means about me... we are ignoring that.) I enjoyed the aspects of the world where the Sea is a protective, vengeful force, like a mother, and the different, fun stories told about witchcraft.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much it for everything I liked.

“I have loved you.” She smiled, a quirk of her tremulous lips. “That is enough.”

My first problem with The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea is that the romance is woefully underdeveloped. In my notes, I wrote “their relationship was like: [rich girl teaches pirate how to read] BAM they’re in love” and... I am not wrong.

The romance was a big part of the story, and it was in fact a large motivator for both of the main characters. So it was disconcerting when their relationship was written with a lot of finality and gravity when we had only seen them have Full Conversations approximately six times.

My second problem, which I noticed when I was about halfway through the book, was that I... didn’t really care about the characters? In fact, when there were side characters whose POVs were included near the end, I was more invested in them than the actual protagonists. Which is an issue, to say the least!!

I liked Flora and I thought her backstory and arc were both great, but I didn’t care a lot for Evelyn. And the ending is definitely supposed to make you feel emotion or touch you in some way, but I read the entire thing with an absolutely straight face because I 1) didn’t care, and 2) just wanted to be DONE with the book.

She did not need to say: You’re home because you’re here with me.
She did not need to say: I will be your home.

The pacing was also terribly, weirdly off. The book is divided into three different parts, and it felt like each had their own separate mini arcs that didn’t mesh well together as one overall plot. For example, in the second part, witchcraft was introduced and it was actually so cool and one of the only things I was interested in reading. But nothing happened to it... like it was introduced and then used only two times... so what was the point...

The middle of the book suffered from boring-dragging-middle syndrome, and the ending was rushed, which made the events that occurred feel tacky. I also hated how Florian’s love for his brother was made to be really important but then was also thrown away so many times. And I also didn’t like how a lot of things in general were left unresolved—it felt like lazy writing!!

Overall, I’m quite sad that I didn’t love this book. It had a lot of potential, especially with the messages and representation it offered. But it lacked in a lot of areas, notably the characters, romance, and the plot itself. I really wish I loved this at much as I love the cover, but alas! I am but a moaning face in the sea. :o)

*Edit: Just now realizing that making the Black main character a crew member of a slaver ship may not have been the way to go... If there are any Black ownvoices reviews I find talking about this, I’ll link them!

:: rep :: Japanese-coded queer MC, Black genderfluid MC, Black side characters, nonbinary side character

:: content warnings :: death, murder, torture, almost drowning, depictions of blood, drinking, rape/sexual assault (off-page)

Thank you to Candlewick Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! This did not affect my opinion in any way.

All quotes are from an advance copy and may differ in final publication.
Profile Image for Lex Kent.
1,682 reviews8,608 followers
April 26, 2020
2.50 Stars. I’m really disappointed to say that this book did not work for me. I was really excited to get the ARC copy of this. Pirates, witches, mermaids and a sapphic romance; what could be better? Well it turns out a lot since I almost DNF’d this book. If this was not an ARC I would have permanently put it down. I hate to say this but this just did not click with me much at all.

One of my biggest issues was the characters. Almost everyone in this book is a jerk or worse. Even the mains themselves are not great. One is a pirate who is a slaver. How am I supposed to want to connect with that character? I’m someone who loves a good morally gray character but some things are just not redeemable. The other main is a “Lady” of the ruling class who is sleeping with her servant who is clearly in love with her. When the Lady is leaving does she make sure her faithful servant, best friend, and lover is looked after and actually has a job to feed herself? No she takes off like see ya later! And these are actually the two best characters in the bunch. The rest of the people are all awful and I was not happy to jump into a few of their POV’s. One character even looked like Tokuda-Hall was setting her up to star in a book 2, but that character is so unlikeable that I was yelling “No! Not her!” at the book.

I had trouble getting into the plot. It seemed like it took so long to go anywhere that I just wanted the story to move on. For a fantasy book like this I was hoping for an interesting magic system. Instead that part let me down too. As a bookaholic you would think I would love magic based on story telling. Instead I found it boring and by the end of the book I didn’t even get why the magical witch character was needed. The only magical being in this book that I enjoyed were the mermaids. I actually think the mermaid was the best part of the whole book.

I did like the queer rep of a lesbian main and a genderfluid main, but the romance was a disappointment too. The noble “Lady” character force-teaches the pirate how to read. A few pages later they instantly fall in love. In love so deep the pirate will leave their family for the “Lady”. I’m not saying there is any reason why the romance can’t be light and sweet, but at least make it feel like an actual romance and not just insta love.

I was so excited to get this ARC that this was a pretty big letdown. Maybe my expectations were too high. If I was not such a character driven reader maybe this would have worked for me more. I don’t know the answers to those questions, I just know that unfortunately this was not the book for me.

An ARC was given to me for a honest review.
Profile Image for Charlie Anders.
Author 143 books3,670 followers
September 17, 2019
The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea will take you on the journey of a lifetime. Maggie Tokuda-Hall has created characters that I've never seen before, and then put them into 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 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.
Profile Image for Tara ☽.
303 reviews241 followers
Want to read
July 15, 2019
*sniffs the air* Do I smell a sapphic pirate romance?
Profile Image for Becca & The Books.
306 reviews6,296 followers
September 29, 2020
A beautiful story about love & identity.

The atmosphere and writing in this book was on point, making it read almost like a fairytale, which is simutaneously my favourite and least favourite aspect of the book. While it's beautiful prose and timeless feel made me really love how wonderfully the book was composed, at the same time I felt a distance to the characters, which, along with a touch of instalove, is the only thing I can really fault this on.

I really loved the way gender identity was discussed through this novel as we follow Florian/Flora's journey while they discover who they are and what they truly hold dear and I also loved that this was multi-perspective sharing each character's background and struggles.

This book also touches on topics of race, imperialism & colonialism.

Can't wait to read more from Maggie Tokuda-Hall in the future!

Profile Image for Sofia.
266 reviews6,156 followers
June 6, 2021
I just can't finish this. We're going to ignore how my loan got automatically returned.
The beginning was so promising, but then instalove reared its ugly head and the plot fell apart, and now I just can't enjoy it.

review to come...

✰ sapphic readathon ✰

Happy Pride Month! In celebration, I will be reading a bunch of F/F books. Because M/M books dominate LGBTQ+ literature. It's effortless to find a good M/M book, but finding a good F/F one is more of a challenge. I keep seeing the same five books popping up in every list. I'm a member of a group that had a themed book of the month a while back. The theme was LGBTQ+ literature. And all the options on the poll were M/M. There were maybe ten to twelve of them. I was angry. So I'm on a mission to find more books with sapphic characters, because only having one type of rep is not really rep at all.

Book 1: Fingersmith: ★★★★★
Book 2: The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea: ★★☆☆☆
Profile Image for Ash.
122 reviews136 followers
April 22, 2020
Thank you to NetGalley and Candlewick Press for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

DNF ~30%.

For a long time I’ve assumed the reason I dislike most fictional romances is that I’m a bitter lesbian sick of having heterosexuality shoved in my face everywhere I turn. That may still be the case, however, The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea proves that I can dislike fictional lesbian romance just as much as I dislike fictional straight romance.

Because that was my number one problem with this book: the romance. It was poorly developed and cliché. First, a quick background: We have two protagonists, Evelyn and Flora. Evelyn is a wealthy member of the Imperial ruling class shipped off to marry a man she’s never met. (There’s our first cliché.) Flora, called Florian, dresses as a boy (edit: as Isabel kindly informed me in the comments, , which I love to see) to fit in aboard the Dove, a pirate ship that masquerades as a passenger ship to lure in captives and sell them as slaves.

Evelyn and Flora’s relationship begins with what I’m officially labeling the world’s laziest attempt at enemies-to-lovers. Flora hates the Imperials, and she tells us as soon as she meets Evelyn that she’s determined to hate Evelyn too. This doesn’t happen because Evelyn is “not like other rich people” (cliché). Cue insta-love, or something very close to it. Their feelings for each other have so little development I had to squint to find it. The only meaningful interactions they have before falling in love consist of Evelyn teaching Flora how to read (cliché).

So I didn’t like the romance, and I didn’t much like the characters either. At first, Flora seemed like a well-developed and interesting character, a morally gray young woman determined to make her way in the world… until she met Evelyn. Evelyn bulldozed Flora’s convictions with the slightest effort, transforming Flora into a completely different person, one who only cares about Evelyn, who always does what Evelyn wants, even if it isn’t in Flora’s best interests. I was far more interested in Flora’s relationship with her brother, Alfie, or her mentor, Rake, both of which were sidelined to focus on her relationship with Evelyn.

And Evelyn… I get that she’s a sheltered rich girl, but even that doesn’t justify her lack of common sense. She’s supposedly caring and kind, and in a way she is (to a fault), but she’s somehow simultaneously incredibly self-absorbed. She doesn’t consider how her actions will affect others, not even the people she supposedly cares about. She does what she believes is the right thing even when doing so is stupid and dangerous. And I know I already mentioned her “not like other rich girls” personality, but I have to mention it again because it is so grating.

The worldbuilding was completely flat. Each of the various nations is clearly meant to resemble a real-world culture. The Empire is Japan. Tustwe, where Flora’s mother is from, is Africa. Quark is Europe. You’ll notice that both Africa and Europe are whole continents made of many distinct cultures. I know that. I’m not sure Maggie Tokuda-Hall does. She cherry-picks easily identifiable features of these geographical regions: kimonos and tea, antelope and braided hair, pale skin and sunburns. There’s zero nuance. If you’re going to borrow real-world cultures, do some actual research! Otherwise, exercise your creativity and come up with your own fictional cultures.

The fantasy aspects of the story were equally disappointing. This book is called The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea. I expected magic! And there were traces of it, but not nearly enough to satisfy me. Maybe there’s more magic in the latter two-thirds of the book, but I’ll never know because nothing in the first third convinced me to keep reading. I was over one hundred pages in and the plot had barely started moving.

The only reason I give this book two stars instead of one is that there were moments of inspiration when Tokuda-Hall explored themes of imperialism, identity, and gender. If she’d coupled these themes with more nuanced worldbuilding, I might have kept reading simply to see the concept fully realized. And I did like Flora, as long as Evelyn wasn’t around. I would read a whole book about Flora. But I didn’t want to read one more page about Evelyn.
Profile Image for Tessa.
99 reviews1 follower
July 17, 2022
Before I do this review, I just want to say that Maggie Tokuda-Hall commented on my Tiktok, and I have now ascended into a new plane of existence.

> 5/5 stars

🏴‍☠ It's not even discussible: The Mermaid, The Witch and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall was a complete knockout, start to finish.

🏴‍☠ Thank you so much Candlewick Press for sending me a copy in enchange for an honest review!

🏴‍☠ I just want to start off by saying tat this was probably my first pirate book. And also my first mermaid book. The way this ruined all other pirate/mermaid books for me is astonishing: I will always compare them back to this.

🏴‍☠ The worldbuilding was so grounded. It felt real, it felt solid, it never felt overly complicated. The writing was amazing. The descriptions were on point: not too lenghty, not too brief. The dialogues felt real and necessary.

🏴‍☠ The characters were EASILY the most diverse group of characters I've ever read about. And I'm not talking about mermaids, witches and pirates. I'm talking about LGBT rep, POC main characters, complex feelings and backstories. None of them felt two dimensional, they had a personality and depth to them!

🏴‍☠ The plot twists were so beautiful weaven into the story I barely noticed one was coming or that a bomb was about to drop. It was beautifully done, truly.

🏴‍☠ I don't know why this book isn't talked about more. Everyone get your hands on it FAST.
Profile Image for kaz.brekkers.future.wife.
375 reviews240 followers
June 2, 2022

"He looked at me, and I looked at him, and he looked at me, and I looked at him"

yeah so me and this book have a very complicated relationship. The title made it obviously seem like it was about...idk..a mermaid in love with a witch. then I read the synopsis and I was like...okay this seems interesting.

And then like partway through the book it went from a hostage forbidden love to an escape plan, then it became a girl training to be a witch then it became another girl locked up after returning to her land then it became too much political intrigue *inhales deeeply*AND THEEEEEEN it became a rescue arc. this book was so many things at once, which is quite dizzying for a standalone.

It didn't feel...right. Like so much changed so there was a lot to keep up with.
Some spoilers down below so scroll back up if you haven't read!

Also, can we talk about the characters? Though Flora did redeem herself, she was literally about to make innocent women and children slaves. And she heard the captain admit that most of the women would be raped.

I hate rich people but I don't want them Fing raped. Like, what kind of girl has a clean conscience after hearing that.

And Evelyn, she also was kind of an asshole. I mean, she was snobby and she treated Flora like a pet where she could get extra points for being nice. It was condescending to Flora and humiliating for Evelyn.


I...don't know how to feel about this book

currently reading
sapphic pirate enemies to lovers. Say less bitches!!!
Profile Image for The Captain.
1,065 reviews358 followers
May 6, 2020
Ahoy there me mateys!  I received this young adult fantasy eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  So here be me honest musings . . .

Upon seeing the beautiful cover and reading the synopsis, I thought this novel would float me boat.  No such luck.  I read 40% before abandoning ship.  The only reason I read that long is that I wanted to know about the mermaids.

I was prepared to root for a sapphic romance between the orphan turned bad pirate and the spoiled naive rich girl.  But basically the leads suck.  Both are intelligent but don't use their brains.  Both are kinda hateful.  Pirate girl has no problems being a slaver and her selfishness is appalling.  The only person she kinda cares about is her brother but that is out of guilt.  Rich girl dumps her former lover and "best" friend (and servant with no power) with nary a thought about her feelings or future.

Pirate girl is determined to hate rich girl.  But insta-lust still ensues.  Rich girl has no common sense but wants a friend.  But wait!  Pirate girl is dressed like a boy!!  But Shakespeare this ain't.  No comedy just weird internal angst and a ridiculous reveal moment.  On top of that the portrayal of ship life is laughable and the circumstances of the two girls interacting is just plain stupid and makes no sense.

As for the mermaid, the backstory and character angst took up the first 30% or so.  Then we finally get the mermaid.  I liked the mermaid depiction but it took up so little of the plot and the "twist" about feeding it was stupid.  The mermaid fun was nowhere to be found.

I should have given up on this book as soon as rape was used as a motivating character trait for a baddie early on.  I was seduced by the siren's song much to me disadvantage.  I should have known better.

So lastly . . .

Thank you Candlewick Press!
Profile Image for Silvia .
635 reviews1,388 followers
June 10, 2020
I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

2.5 stars

To understand the different stages of emotions I'm going through while thinking about how to review this book, you have to keep in mind the kombucha girl TikTok, except make it ten times milder because I wish this book inspired the level of emotional investment as kombucha girl went through.

This weird intro to say: I have....some? good things to say about this, and the rest was a big mess, but I also can't bring myself to hate it because that would be too strong of an emotion to apply to this.

The premise of this was what drew me in, the female/nonbinary romance with a side of piracy sounded too good to be true, and, well. You get where I'm going. The romance was just there, I guess. It was okay? It was too fast to be believable, but that often is with sapphic romance, and I was willing to not let it bother me. I wasn't even bothered when the romance caused the nonbinary lead to take some pretty hasty and drastic decisions like leaving behind her only family, because I felt like that was part of her character arc in escaping what is essentially a codependent relationship with her brother. Other than that, I never felt much for the romance at all.

With that premise I was still willing to see what else was there, and as it turns out, there was a lot.

As the title suggests, the book is tripartite, with each arc being almost self contained. I really liked the mermaid (as a creature, not so much the book part named after her), I didn't care about the witch and the sea would have been cool if it was explored more.

And here lies the key to my review: if anything had been explored more, it would've ended up being such a cool book, instead it tried to be so much that it became very little. I really see where it was trying to go, but I would have appreciated less elements added to the story and more exploration of the ones that could have made it a quite unique pirate book.

If I tried to mentally remove any particular element from this novel, I would end up exactly with the same book. I never felt like there was anything to it that was necessary to the story, not even the sea as the deux ex machina, not even the mermaid (although I liked her), the witch only to a certain extent. Magic was probably the best developed aspect of the middle section of the book, but then it was used twice and never again. The Sea only acted when it was convenient. The book started as a clear-cut dual POV then it kept adding POVs, one of which I understood the significance of and the other was just annoying.

But by far the thing I'm most disappointed with, that could have saved the whole book and kept me reading and hoping until the end, was all the big talk about the mysterious and probably sexy nonbinary Pirate Supreme, only for them to appear and speak like two sentences? And they didn't even do anything badass???? I feel cheated.

All this to say, there was so much and I think everything, from the characters to the plot, would have benefited from having less but better developed.

There were also things I personally really don't want to read in my queer romances. Without making any big or generalized statements, but speaking of personal preference I would like to never see another supposedly queernormative fantasy book use homophobia so casually. In the spirit of the rest of the book, this too was used once or twice without any development or raison d'être, and as a queer person reading it to, you know, do some escapism and consume a sapphic romance, I'm tired as fuck.

To add to this, of course the lesbian character is shipped away by her awful family to marry a man she's never met. Of course in the course of the book she meets said man and he's a piece of shit, as are all of the other men she meets. I cannot properly put this into words eloquently but when men (yes, all of them) pose a constant threat to your life as a (queer) woman, the constant threat of violence, sexual or otherwise, in a book that's supposed to be about a sapphic romance is not something I welcome. I have DNF'd a book with a very similar premise to this for this reason alone, and I have not done so here because I wanted to give a (new to me) author of color a chance.

I can't speak about the nonbinary representation, but I think it was nice to show that there is not one way to be nonbinary. The Pirate Supreme uses they/them while Flora/Florian uses she/he and exists as both a boy and a girl. I do wonder what Black and specifically Black nonbinary readers think, though, about this character being written by a non-Black author.

Overall, while reading I didn't have too many issues focusing or wanting to see where everything was going, and there were things I liked or things I wanted to see more of (and only by continuing I realized they wouldn't go anywhere). Most of my (mostly negative) thoughts in this review come from a post-reading analysis, whereas my main thought while reading was "this is perfectly average, there's only a few things that bother me". And I still think that, in a way: there is a place for average novels, and me reviewing it quite negatively shouldn't deter you from trying this book out yourself.

While this is a standalone, it left enough things open for a potential sequel, including, very annoyingly, an epilogue by the least-important POV character, but I don't think I will check it out if it ever comes out.

TWs: Torture, death, murder, mutilation, blood, violence, alcoholism, homophobia, mention of sexual assault
Profile Image for Taylor.
767 reviews424 followers
January 31, 2020
This book is SO GOOD. I wasn't expecting it to be amazing as it is and I'm blown away.
The diversity, the representation, the plot, the characters, everything about this book is 10/10.
I did assume from the cover that this was middle grade, which it is definitely not. This book isn't slow at all and the action starts right away, which I loved. It's fast paced without being rushed and the plot is so engaging, I would being reading for hours and never get bored.
I loved the characters so much. I enjoyed the diversity and representation so much. I can't remember the last time I read a diverse fantasy YA book thatI enjoyed so much.
The writing was wonderful and the concept was fantastic. I honestly have nothing negative to say about this book, I enjoyed it so much. It's been such a long time since I've loved a YA book so much and The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea is everything I needed from a YA book and more. I highly recommend picking up a copy.
Profile Image for Dahlia.
Author 18 books2,329 followers
December 19, 2019
My official blurb for this book is “An utterly romantic and breathless adventure that wouldn’t let me sleep until I’d devoured every last word. It’s a journey of love, magic, and self-discovery unlike any I’ve ever read.”

My unofficial blurb is that no word of my official blurb is remotely an exaggeration - it's one of the most compelling books I've read in ages, and I absolutely could not put it down. I did not expect such an incredible gender self-examination in such a wild adventure, or for the romance to be so incredibly swoony, but this book does so much and achieves so much. Definitely for fans of Amy Rose Capetta, Emily Skrutskie, and E.K. Johnston.
Profile Image for charlotte,.
3,044 reviews805 followers
August 5, 2020
On my blog.

Rep: Japanese-coded wlw mc, Black genderfluid mc, nonbinary side character, Japanese-coded side characters, Black side character

CWs: mentions of rape, on-page torture, implied torture of side character, misogyny, alcohol abuse, on-page mutilation

Galley provided by publisher

Sometimes you come across a book that just makes you think, maybe I shouldn’t be reading this genre anymore. Well that book, for me, is The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea (the genre being YA fantasy, of course).

But this, unlike the other ones I’ve suffered through this year, was a little different. There was more than just boredom happening. So strap in, this could get a bit like a rant.

First let me start with some positives. I really loved the lore of this world, namely the idea of the sea being something to pay tithe to (and as such, Rake’s storyline was by far the most interesting aspect of the book to me), and the story of the mermaid who falls in love with a witch and the sea cursing them both. But I really wish those had played larger roles in the plot than they did.

Instead though, I got something that was boring and aimless.

Primarily that aimlessness came from there not seeming to be an overarching arc to the story, at least not until the very end. The individual parts had their own arcs, sure, and that would have been fine if I could see where it was going. But I couldn’t and, as such, it felt very like the plot was going nowhere (and, unsurprisingly, I got bored). Not to mention a good chunk of the plot seemed to have no point in and of itself. Like how Flora learns magic, but for what purpose? The eponymous witch is only there to actually teach her said magic, and plays no other role in the plot. I said above I wanted the lore to feature more prominently than it did – this is exactly where I could have done with that happening.

And then there’s the instalove. Good Lord I haven’t read one so bad in a while. Like I do get that, for plot purposes (what little there is), Flora and Evelyn need to be at least friends with one another by the end of the first part. But there’s friends and then there’s goddamn instalove and I just cannot stand the latter. Not to mention the whole vibe of how Evelyn is “not like other rich girls”. Please, spare me.

But now we come to the kicker of this book. The genderfluid rep (with the caveat this is not an ownvoices review, so please take what I’m saying with a healthy pinch of salt).

Throughout the book, it never feels as though Flora identifies as a man through anything other than necessity. The idea that a woman is not strong enough to be on a pirate ship (which, also, brings me to a minor point about the misogyny and homophobia in this world like. I’m so tired of fantasy worlds, where you can make all sorts up, and yet cannot imagine a world where these bigotries don’t exist). It never feels as though Florian is anything but a mask, or a completely separate individual.

This is particularly evident in how Flora speaks about Florian (as if he were a mask). And in how, in Flora’s POV, only she/her pronouns are ever used. In fact, he/him pronouns are only used in outsiders’ POVs. So, yeah, pronouns don’t equal gender, and all, but there’s no real talk of the latter.

And then there are these quotes:

“They do prefer women.” This time, Flora said nothing. The spell of safety Florian cast over her life was slipping, and yet she did not seem to be a female anymore, either. The loss stung. She was neither, it seemed. Or at least, she didn’t reap the benefit of either.

Hearing Florian aloud dragged her back to the Dove, back to her life on the sea with the Nameless Captain and Rake. And Alfie. “That’s not my name,” she said finally. “Isn’t it?” Xenobia held Flora’s eyes, unblinking. […] “There are those who are neither man nor woman. Those who were born and called the wrong gender and must reshape their story for those around them. But you. You’re something else. You’re whatever is safe. Both, maybe, but not neither. Or interchangeable.”

In the first, it’s the reference to Florian being “a spell of safety” and Flora “[not reaping] the benefit of either”. In the second, it’s Flora’s response of “that’s not my name”, and Xenobia’s comment that “you’re whatever is safe”.

None of this, to me, rings true of genderfluidity. Genderfluid people are not “whatever is safe”. I would be surprised if they thought about “reap[ing] the benefit of either”. And the way Flora’s first instinct is to say Florian isn’t her name does not feel like she actually identifies with him in anyway.

And yes, I could be persuaded this is less a story of a character who knows they are genderfluid, and more one of them realising they are, but you just need to take a look at the reviews to see that very few people seem to be picking Flora’s genderfluidity up at all. I’m not sure there was enough evidence to subscribe wholly to that reading.

Add onto this the talk of “holding two identities in her heart” following this talk with Xenobia (again, I wouldn’t have thought genderfluidity meant two separate identities), still only using she/her pronouns in her POV, and the bit at the end where the pronouns flip-flop back and forth based on the name another character uses to refer to Flora?

It just feels like a mess in all.

(That said, if anyone knows of any ownvoices reviews of the genderfluid rep, please do let me know!)
Profile Image for Alaina.
6,084 reviews215 followers
May 27, 2020
What a fun adventure!

Probably should've waited to dive into these LBGTQ+ romance books since June is right around the corner BUT I just couldn't. I wanted to dive into this because so many freaking people were reading it. I had series FOMO guys.

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea was a pretty interesting book. Anything with pirates will make me automatically want to dive into it. The characters throughout this book were written pretty well. Even if they were all pretty self-centered and completely selfish throughout the book. Heck, I will even admit that at some points in this book I was confused about what was exactly going on. Maybe it's because I was listening to the audio but who knows.

In the end, the adventure was pretty entertaining and I am happy that I dove into it. Off to my next adventure book!
Profile Image for rachel, x.
1,691 reviews855 followers
July 11, 2022
Trigger warnings for .

Representation: Evelyn (mc) is Japanese & sapphic, Flora (mc) is Black, sapphic & genderfluid; Japanese, Black & nonbinary scs.

BlogTrigger Warning DatabaseStoryGraph
Profile Image for Mel (Epic Reading).
895 reviews274 followers
December 27, 2020
A wonderfully magical book set in a cruel empire, across a sea of mermaids (who play a minor role and are not the mermaids most think of), and where anything might hold a little magic. I adored our characters, yes even the cruel ones. Given I am terrified of water, especially the ocean, its surprising that the love affair this book has with the sea felt natural and right to me. Now that’s proof of good writing!

Stories Inside Stories
I always love books that have lore or stories inside of stories. Maggie Tokuda-Hall gives us this in the form of little fables or myths; as well as the stories the characters tell of their past. This writing technique is perfect for fantasy world's as it gives insight into the history or foundation of the world. Done well it's a delight every time; and I definitely was thrilled each time I encountered one here.

Gender Swap
A (perhaps) cliché piece of this story is that Florian, our lead girl, is hiding out on a pirate ship as a boy. This is not an uncommon trope if only because women have been legitimately doing this for thousands of years in our history. The reality is, for this fantasy world (and our own) that being a man is almost always safer and provides opportunity that being a woman does not. I like how Florian handles her identity of being a woman inside of being a man. Her own sexuality is at question throughout and it plays nicely with the gender question as well. I was unsure at many points what way Florian might lean and thus felt like I was discovering her as she discovered herself.

So there is some pretty heavy romance in this. It doesn't feel out of place, and it's handled beautifully; but it is there. So if you are hoping for an all out violent and brutal fantasy you will find that those pages are present as well; but that much of the over arcing story has a romantic tone to it. It felt genuine in The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea for me. I liked how the Sea itself had a few moments to speak to us and expressed itself in a very lyrical, romantic way.

This may be one of my favourite reads of 2020. It's been a tough year to get into books and things have really distracted me from reading this year. So to find a story like Tokuda-Hall has given us was a huge relief; and allowed me to really enjoy the experience. There are fights, torture, and injustices in this gorgeous novel; alongside rescues, love, and pity. The magic of this book is that it has a little bit of magic laced into it; while still feeling realistic, harsh, and unfair. Just like our own world so often is.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Profile Image for Теодор Панов.
Author 4 books128 followers
July 11, 2021
Приятно и разтоварващо фентъзи. С кораби, морски пирати, русалки, вещици, магия и малко ненатрапваща се романтика по оста жена-жена. Нямах прекалено големи очаквания към книгата, затова историята я намирам за задоволителна.
3.3 звезди.
Profile Image for Connor.
681 reviews1,656 followers
June 24, 2020
[3-3.5 Stars]
I was initially drawn to the cover art because woah! Victo Ngai's artwork is stunning. I then read the blurb and knew I wanted to see what this book had in store.

We follow Flora/Florian an orphan-turned-pirate who works on the Dove (the ship) alongside her/his brother. They pretend to be a passenger vessel and then enslave all of the passengers. We also follow Evelyn, a lady that doesn't behave as an aristocrat ought to. They meet when Evelyn is arranged to marry a far-off nobleman, and Evelyn becomes a passenger on the Dove.

I will say straight off the bat that this is a light/shallow fantasy novel. The magic is free-flowing, without many rules. The only rule is in the blurb. Mermaid blood makes people forget parts of their lives. The relationships between characters aren't all that deep. The places and cultures are fuzzy as well. So I wouldn't advise anyone going into this to expect a fully fleshed out magic system or world. It's more about Flora and Evelyn falling for each other and what they'll endure to be together. It has more of a fairytale vibe to it than a contemporary fantasy story.

I think with the correct expectations, people will have a great time following this story. Would I like to know more about the pirate societal structure? Sure. Would I like to understand the different cultures of the various populations? Yes. The author pulls elements from Japan and other real world places. Would I like to know the motivations of the witch and the reason why the witch character was included in this? Of course because she's really not needed. Would the story greatly benefit from deeper relationships between characters? I think so. Was I sad that we didn't get to explore the nonbinary (they/them) pirate leader? Yep. But at the end of the day, a lot of the deeper details aren't needed to tell the core of this story.

There is not one morally correct character. They all kind of suck in their own ways which was interesting to see. Evelyn is young and scoffs at the idea of being "like other noble girls." She also totally does not give a crap about almost anyone but herself and then Flora. Flora/Florian is a murderer and has been enslaving people for years and years. Her/his brother, Alfie, sucks. The first mate, Rake, sucks. The witch sucks. The Sea kind of sucks. Everyone sucks. It was a bold choice, and one that I think can work against the novel. It's harder to care about what happens to them if there isn't a character that I truly root for anywhere in the story. I didn't find myself rooting against characters either, unfortunately. It can be just as fun to root against characters, hoping they meet messy ends, but the characters weren't overly despicable.

I do like that the novel is split into three main sections corresponding to three mini-plots that the characters go through. However, the Witch section is definitely the weakest, which was disappointing because I finally started getting into the story at about 125 pages in - just before the Witch section begins. I think it could have been cut much shorter and the extra pages diverted to the last part which seemed too short and could have benefited from spreading out.

I did like that there is an added POV (apart from the interludes from the perspective of the Sea) which I didn't know I needed. I think that it starts around the same time that I got invested in what was happening. I think it also serves to make the main two characters a tad more interesting because it shows that the girls are not fully on their own. I didn't love the random one chapter from a fourth POV, but it somewhat ties up a loose thread.

In the end, it's a fun story of a pirate and a Lady trying to be together despite multiple actors trying to keep them apart. I'd recommend it to someone with the right expectations of a fairytale rather than a concrete fantasy world.

Trigger Warning:
Profile Image for Tara.
774 reviews309 followers
November 18, 2020
Whoa, did TMtW&tS ever help me escape the world we’re in right now. I loved it so much and I can’t stop thinking about it. I’ve already told eleven friends in the two days since finishing it that they must read this book. And when my eight-year-old daughter asked me what I was doing while I was writing this review, I said “I’m writing about a book that I can’t wait for you to be old enough to read.” I am seriously stoked for her and her little sister to read about these badasses some day.

As much as I’m sad it’s over, I’m excited too because the epilogue hints at a sequel. I will be ready and waiting, probably having reread this one a few times, because I so want to go back to this world.

Full review (SBTB): https://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/r...

Full review (TLR): https://www.thelesbianreview.com/merm...
Profile Image for Stay Fetters.
2,040 reviews117 followers
May 22, 2020
"There's freedom in stories, you know. We read them and we become something else. We imagine different lives, and while we turn the pages, we get to live them. To escape the lot we're given."

Mermaids and Witches are two things that I love. They are mysterious, dark, and full of magic. It's something that I need to bring forth into my life. There's just something about them that grabs my attention and seeks something deep inside of me. So when I read the title and saw the cover, I knew that this book was something that I needed in my life. The synopsis just made it all the more intriguing.

Early on, you know that this is going to be something unique and groundbreaking. Something to make you spin on your head because it'll be like nothing that you've read before. It flowed together exquisitely and made you fall in love with the tale of love, finding your identity, and fighting for what you truly believe in.

This wasn't an instant love for me. The first chapter with Evelyn didn't draw me in like the rest of the book. Once she made her way on The Dove, that's when her character opened up and showed compassion towards her guard. Florian was a hit from the beginning and my favorite. It was easy to fall in love with some of the characters but I wish there was more backstory to the lot of them. Some of the secondary characters got lost at sea.

The author does a fantastic job with the identity struggles that Flora/Florian faces. She goes between different pronouns when Flora/Florian struggles to identify with who they are inside. She represents this perfectly in a way that makes the reader understand and feel what they are going through.

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea was a dark, twisty, and gory read with lots of action, beautiful lore, and lots of heart. This was truly a mesmerizing tale that never got boring. It was non-stop from beginning to end. I highly recommend this if you need something different in your life!!
Profile Image for laurel [the suspected bibliophile].
1,363 reviews374 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
May 3, 2020
DNF at 23%

I wanted to like this a lot more than I did, but pirate books, much less YA pirate books, are a very hard sell for me. Samesies with any books that mention corsets more than twice in the first ten pages. With #ownvoices rep, sapphic relationships, anti-colonialism and more, however, this tempted me to try again with the YA pirate drama (did not know about the abundance of corsets).

It wasn't for me, but it might be the book for someone else!

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review
Profile Image for Kelly.
1,310 reviews501 followers
May 13, 2020
With a title like this, you would think I wouldn't get bored, right? I mean, there should be a lot to love...

1. Mermaids

2. Pirates

3. Witchcraft

4. And an LGBT romance + POC rep


Well... Unfortunately, I didn't love this book. The biggest problem I had was that I never really got invested in the story or characters. I mean I did a little, just not enough in the long run. I knew if they died, it wouldn't have bothered me all that much. And when I don't care, I don't enjoy reading.

There wasn't a lot of depth to this book especially with the world-building and the romance. The lady taught the pirate how to read and they were in love. Just like that. I didn't feel the love and reading some reviews, I wasn't the only one. It was all very shallow.

When Flora was with the Witch, I expected magic. However, I found that part so boring. We didn't even really had magic? Her learning should have been interesting but it was the worst part for me. That's when I knew I wanted to rush to get to the end. Also, can we speak about Genevieve's point of view came out of nowhere and was useless.

This book was an anticipated release but it just didn't do it for me. The ending felt a little weird but at that point, I was already done with this story. At least, the story was tied up (perhaps too nicely) and since I pushed myself to finish it, I can say I read it...


(Thank you for letting me read and review an ARC via Netgalley)
Profile Image for Juli.
1,858 reviews474 followers
June 21, 2020
When an orphan girl takes on a male persona and boards a pirate ship, adventure, danger and even romance are a given. Throw in a witch, a mermaid and pirate antics and you have an entertaining and fun read.

Note: the main characters in this book are queer, so if you are one of those people that does not enjoy queer romance stories or LGBTQ fiction, give this one a pass.

I enjoyed this story. It was a fun, entertaining read. I love anything with pirates, so this was an easy plot to enjoy. At times the main characters were a bit hard to like. They both have a tendency to be selfish jerks at times. But the cool, magical world filled with mermaids and pirates pretty much carried the story past any personality issues.

Nice mix of magic, adventure and romance. Fun read! The front cover art is amazing!

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from Candlewick Press. All opinions expressed are entirely my own**
Profile Image for Rain.
697 reviews116 followers
June 15, 2020

I've said it before and I'll say it again: this doesn't feel like a final draft to me. It has some pretty cool aspects, but it's too messy and all over the place to really work for me
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