The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea

Candlewick. May 2020. 368p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781536204315.
Gr 9 Up–Not just mermaids, a witch, and the sea, Tokuda-Hall also covers pirates, double agents, and the lure of forgetting. Evelyn, Lady Hasegawa, doesn’t look forward to marriage, although the six-month sea journey to her betrothed offers her a delicious chance to be on her own. In alternating chapters, orphaned Flora, “the smallest sailor,” relates why she’s called Florian aboard the ship, the cruelties that Florian and the crew have perpetrated, and those they have had to endure. Florian and Evelyn strike up a friendship, and when the voyage turns especially nasty, make their escape, taking with them a mermaid who had been captured by the crew. Friendship turns to romance, and then to bitter separation, as Flora struggles with guilt over her past, Evelyn appears headed for a wedding after all, and the crew of the Dove faces their full share of retribution. This well-told tale has violence throughout: a slashed throat, a chopped finger, flogging, and torture. There are also allusions to sexual violence; for example, in what happens to mermaids who are captured. Few characters are what they seem, whether a pious Imperial noblewoman or a hardhearted, seafaring henchman.
VERDICT When considering for purchase, note that descriptions of whippings and torture may distress some readers; this is a dark and creative story, laced with romance, and not for the faint of heart.

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