Reading the Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall is a lot like driving through Texas.
Now, there’s a lot of ways I could go with this. If you’ve ever driven through Texas, you know what I’m talking about.
You know that moment you cross the state lines and your GPS tells you the next turn is in 853 miles. Yeah, that’s no fun.
I could also be meaning that by driving through Texas you get Buc-ees. Who doesn’t love Buc-ees? Amazing!
But in fact, what I’m actually referring to is the consistency of the drive. And it’s a glorious thing, but it doesn’t come without it’s downsides.
What do I mean?
Texas is flat (for the most part). And the highways are straight (for the most part). And the speed limit is consistent (for the most…you get the idea).
There’s nothing I love more about driving through Texas than the 80 mile-an-hour speed limit with almost no traffic in sight.
The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea is a lot like this because it’s a good, steady adventure from start to finish. I didn’t feel there were any slow parts, even right there at the beginning.
It gripped my attention early, and didn’t let up.
But consistency has a price.
I like my stories to ratchet up the excitement as we get to the climax. But the pace really didn’t change at all.
Let’s dive into it in more detail.
The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea Review
The book starts out with Flora, a small pirate girl on a ship full of ruthless men.
The captain initiates her into the crew after she slits the throat of a passenger. Her name is then changed to Florian and she starts to dress as a man.
It’s easier for her to fly under the radar of the lustful men if she pretends to be a man.
Then we switch to Evelyn Hasegawa who is a traditional Asian girl in a typical Asian household. Except Evelyn has a secret.
She loves women.
And that doesn’t sit with her traditional upbringing at all. Her parents seek to separate her from her love (her maid) by marrying her off to some important general who lives 7 months away by sea.
The ship she’s to be sent away on is a passenger vessel called the Dove. Except this is no passenger vessel, it’s a slaver in disguise, and it’s the ship that Florian serves on.
The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea takes place almost exclusively on this ship during the long journey to the Floating Islands.
But the ship will never make it to its destination as Evelyn is set to be sold as a rich noble virgin to some lowlife on the black market.
Cue suspense and high-stakes drama.
The book is aptly named the Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea, since the book is split into three parts, each that focus on these three items.
The first is the mermaid.
Mermaid are a highly sought after black market item. Their blood has magical properties that allow the drinker to lose distant memories of pain and anguish.
The captain of the Dove has drank the mermaid blood so much that he’s forgotten his own name, and thus he’s called the Nameless Captain.
His penchant for mermaid blood also makes him a target for the Pirate Supreme, who protects the Sea and her children.
This animosity creates a nice side-story with some pretty exciting moments throughout the book.
Witches are supposed to be extinct. But nobody can truly snuff out magic.
Kill all the currently existing witches and more will be born in the future. This is just a turn used to relate to any magic user.
Evelyn and Florian eventually meet a witch in the story, and the parts of the book that revolve around the witch are some of the most interesting in the whole book.
Tokuda-Hall outdoes herself with these sections. It’s pure brilliance and took a lot of creativity to craft the many tales, lessons, and details given by the witch.
The witch is neither good nor bad. She isn’t a complete ally, but she’s also not an enemy.
It’s difficult to explain, but suffice it to say, our heroes need to stay on their toes around her.
The Sea is not just a body of water.
Think of her as you would Gaia, Mother Earth.
The Sea is an ethereal, god-like being. She is the Sea, but she has no body. Everything that lives in the Sea is her children.
But this is not some higher feeling, she is real and she has will and personality.
The Sea is all about protecting her children, and she is very jealous. She is the enemy of all who would hard her children or taken them from her, even if her children want to leave voluntarily.
This makes the Sea also a bit of a gray character.
Overly protective to a fault, yet powerful and benevolent at the same time.
Evelyn and Florian also have direct interaction with the Sea, and one of the most magical moments of the whole book involves the Sea.
The story keeps its pace throughout and held my interest. But as I noted earlier, I never really felt it ratchet up in intensity as we approached the climax.
I remained neutral.
My interest held, but never became enthralling excitement.
Additionally, there’s a lot of introspection/retrospection going on in the Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea.
What I mean is that the characters frequently stop what they’re doing to recall a previous event and recount in to themselves in great detail.
It was kind of jarring to frequently do this. It’s almost like the book just needed to start a lot earlier. Or flash back entirely Once Upon A Time style.
It might be this very thing that prevented the story from ever getting more exciting.
Just when you’re getting into it, we spend several pages looking back, taking you out of the moment.
It’s for these two reasons that I dock half a star each from the Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea.