The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea

by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

I see this author has written graphic novels as well, and truthfully I think this would have been better off presented as a graphic novel– it felt a little sparse at times, but had the striking visual locations and pivotal events sometimes described in cinematically lush terms.

It’s also much more of a fairy tale than a novel, per se.

So as a graphic novel, the sometimes arbitrary feeling of plot decisions– Rake not interfering with the pirates abusing Alfie, mermaids showing up at various times, when the Pirate Supreme decides to intervene, any of the witch’s motivations, why we suddenly get Genevieve’s POV at the end when I really didn’t care, what happens to Evelyn — would have the imagery and genre conventions to support it, while in novel form sometimes I kept waiting for the richness of backhistory and character inner thoughts to fill in the blanks and was left slightly dissatisfied.

But I get ahead of myself. This story revolves around three characters, really: Evelyn, an imperial lady being sent to an arranged marriage, Florian, the pirate boy who is assigned to guard her on her ship journey, and Rake, a pirate who is not all he seems to be.

On the surface, its about a pirate boy finally figuring out who he really is in the context of finding the courage to stand up to abusers and an imperial lady surviving abusive circumstances. And there is a fairy tale like quality to their regard for each other that rises above the fairly non-YA nature of the abuse (alluded to but not shown on the page) many of the characters experience.

If you’re a fan of Catherynn Valente’s work, you’ll probably like Tokuda-Hall. I certainly appreciated the lyrical nature, the references to Japanese culture, the concept of magic as stories we tell to impose our will on reality, and the casual acceptance of non-binary folks.

In the end, however, I think my taste runs more towards the magical/fairy tale as a way to dig deeper into human motivation, society or nature…and this one felt more like a story for story’s sake than anything else. Not bad, just not my taste so much in a novel. Possibly something I’d be more willing to accept in a graphic novel.