Title: The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea
Author: Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Publisher: Walker Books
Published: 2nd September 2020
Synopsis: 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.
- Former bookseller Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s first full-length novel, an adventure-packed fantasy which we won rights to in a pre-empt
- Gender identity is also a theme throughout the novel, which features a romance between nobility-born Evelyn and trans orphan Flora/Florian, two strong queer protagonists
- Gender identity and gender roles/sexual mores in society are major themes throughout the novel, which features notes of Asian folklore and culture threaded through and alongside the fantastical, adventurous, action-packed plot line
An adventure set on the high seas of a fantasy world that melds Japanese stories and culture with the traditional British fantasy, paying homage to both and the tropes, characters and creatures that inform a fantasy world. The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea pulls cultures together to create an imagined world filled with diversity.
Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, an Imperial, is travelling on the Dove to an arranged marriage. She is attended by Flora, whom she knows as Florian, during the voyage. All seems well. Until the crew reveals their true nature, and takes the passengers hostages, and the true nature of the Dove as a pirate ship is revealed.
Told in alternating chapters between Evelyn and Florian, through their eyes, The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea also tells a story of magic and the vibrancy of the sea and her children, the mermaids. When Evelyn and Flora/Florian discover what the pirates are doing with the mermaids they catch, the two are determined to help, and prevent the mermaid from meeting the same fate as so many others.
In this story, the sea and the mermaids are as much characters as Evelyn and Flora/Florian, whose lives intersect and become separate to move the story along, as each grows into their own identity together, and apart. There is romance, but the heart of the book is about identity and the breaking free of stereotypes to be true to yourself. Before Flora/Florian and Evelyn can embark on any kind of relationship, they must find out who they are apart, and this is where the power of this story was for me. It spoke to the need to be true to yourself, your culture, your identity–whatever it is that makes you, well, you and find a way to pull all these things together if you can. It is a book that celebrates being unique, and that celebrates not allowing expectations to rule your life.
Women and their lives and identities are at the heart of this novel. Their femininity, their individuality, their strength and ultimately, who they are and their place in the world. This powerful novel will have something for everyone, from exploration of gender identity, to a rollicking adventure filled with diverse characters, to some clever intrigue when it comes to the women characters, and the way the men seem to underestimate them and the surreptitious and subversive ways Evelyn, Flora and other characters show their true colours and abilities.
Aimed at teens aged fourteen and older, this book centres gender identity and gives people and the characters who might not have a voice one, and a chance to see themselves reflected in literature. This powerful story also shows the diversity of the world, and how a class system can determine your role in life, but also, people’s ability to go against this and determine their own fate.