Title: Skin of the Sea
Author: Natasha Bowen
Genre: YA, Retellings
Published: November 2nd, 2021 (Random House BYR)
Synopsis: A way to survive.
A way to serve.
A way to save.
Simi prayed to the gods, once. Now she serves them as Mami Wata – a mermaid – collecting the souls of those who die at sea and blessing their journeys back home.
But when a living boy is thrown overboard, Simi does the unthinkable – she saves his life, going against an ancient decree. And punishment awaits those who dare to defy it.
To protect the other Mami Wata, Simi must journey to the Supreme Creator to make amends. But something is amiss. There’s the boy she rescued, who knows more than he should. And something is shadowing Simi, something that would rather see her fail…
Danger lurks at every turn, and as Simi draws closer, she must brave vengeful gods, treacherous lands, and legendary creatures. Because if she doesn’t, then she risks not only the fate of all Mami Wata, but also the world as she knows it.
Thank you to the publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Simidele is one of the Mami Wata, mermaids tasked with collecting the souls of people who die at sea and brings them to Yemoja to be blessed for their journey onwards. However, Simi has been a mermaid for only a few months and flashes of memories from her human life still haunt her, making her unable to fully embrace this new life. When she one day comes across a living boy thrown overboard, she intervenes and saves his life, breaking an ancient rule. Now Yemoja and the other Mami Wata are in danger because of her actions and the only way to make things right is to seek forgiveness from the Supreme Creator Oludumare. Simi and Kola, the boy she rescued, set out on the long journey, but more is at stake than they realize and there is something out there that is determined to make sure she does not succeed.
The gorgeous cover is admitted a large part of why I picked up this book, but the intriguing take on one of my least favorite fairytales was a close second. Skin of the Sea was a retelling of The Little Mermaid with Western African influences, and it made for such a fascinating tale. The world building was beautifully done, and though too much time wasn’t spent on it, it was easy to grasp, transporting the reader into the setting. The narration was descriptive and it was so much fun following Simi and Kola’s journey. There was also a lot of African mythology mixed in, which, though I know very little of, I really liked reading about, and it was all of this put together that for me, makes this book stand out as more than just another retelling.
I loved the cast of characters in this book. Simidele was a wonderful protagonist, definitely no Ariel, as she starts the book a fully developed character with a firm code of morals further emphasized by what she can remember of her past. Kola was and the others were just as interesting and they all felt like well fleshed out characters and were easy to connect to despite not having POVs. The villain was more straightforward than I expected, and I predicted that twist well before the reveal, but it certainly didn’t reduce the excitement of the climax scene!
The only thing I didn’t like was the romance as it built up way too fast for my taste, and seeing how most of the focus was on the plot, it didn’t really get enough page time to be believable. The ending was far too abrupt, especially if this is meant to be a standalone. I liked the ending itself, but another chapter or two to ease into it would not have been amiss. All the major plot points were resolved, but there is potential for Simi’s story to go on, and I’d love to see what might happen in that case. Overall, this was an amazing debut, fast paced and easy to read, and I would definitely recommend it if you like retellings with a unique twist.
Skin of the Sea releases on November 2nd, 2021.
Do you plan to read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
All quotes in this review were taken from an advance reader’s edition and may differ from the final version of the book.