Today is my stop on the TBR & Beyond Tours for Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen. Special thanks to Random House Children’s for providing an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!
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Goodreads: Skin of the Sea
Publisher: Random House Children’s
Publication Date: 02 November 2021
Genre: YA Fantasy
An unforgettable fantasy debut inspired by West African mythology, this is Children of Blood and Bone meets The Little Mermaid, in which a mermaid takes on the gods themselves.
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 all is not as it seems. 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.
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Natasha Bowen is a writer, a teacher, and a mother of three children. She is of Nigerian and Welsh descent and lives in Cambridge, England, where she grew up. Natasha studied English and creative writing at Bath Spa University before moving to East London, where she taught for nearly ten years. Her debut bookSkin of the Sea was inspired by her passion for mermaids and African history. She is obsessed with Japanese and German stationery and spends stupid amounts on notebooks, which she then features on her secret Instagram. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, watched over carefully by Milk and Honey, her cat and dog.
Note: The quotes below are taken from an advanced/unfinished copy and are subject to change in the final version.
TL;DR: Wowow, what a STUNNING debut! This was an engaging, well-paced and action-packed adventure that takes us journeying across oceans and lands to villages and a mystical island that houses a power-hungry and corrupt god and his terrifying beastly guardians. I loved the writing, the unique mythical and historical elements, the straightforward plot, and the characters! Ah, so much love 🥰 Even though the open ending did have me grumbling a bit cos it felt so abrupt, I’m hoping that maybe that means there’s gonna be another book or… something? It wasn’t enough to greatly impact my overall enjoyment of the story though! Overall, this is the Little Mermaid retelling I never knew I needed in my life and I’m sure you do too! I’d definitely recommend checking it out if you like: mermaids, African mythology, well developed main characters and wonderful sidekicks, all combined in an absolutely stunning package! 😍
“Here is a story. Story it is…”
Things I Enjoyed:
- The writing was wonderful! I wouldn’t call it purple but the author does write beautifully descriptive sentences! It was so easy to clearly picture everything and I felt so immersed in this world! I know this kind of expressive writing isn’t for everyone, I didn’t feel like it slowed down the pace at all. In fact, I thought the story was very well-paced! Sometimes following characters on journeys from point to point can be draining and frankly, boring but I never once felt that way here. The author provides a good balance between introspective moments, mixed with memory flashbacks to fill in Simi’s history that adds to fleshing out her character, dialogue and plenty of action as the story progresses. Everything flowed so well!
- The awesome combination of African mythology and history was w-o-w. The author’s note briefly mentions the history of the setting and I can say I’ve not read a combination like this before. Bowen does a seamless job incorporating the fantastical elements with the manifestation of deities and other mythical beings/creatures (Mami Wata, fairies, unicorns, river monsters, and shape-shifters), alongside the history of the slave trade. The scenes of slavery were hard to read and I couldn’t manage it without my anger shooting to the surface, but the way the story is presented had me 100% engaged the whole way through. The African mythology was incredible as well and I want to read more about these deities and creatures!
- The main characters were really easy to root for. As a Mami Wata, Simi struggles to leave the land and her memories behind. The sea calls to her but she also feels lost having to let go of who she was before she was remade. She was a well fleshed out character whose history we learned about through flashbacks/dreams of her days as a human, and the more we learned the more I really felt for her. She’s resilient, always willing to do what’s right, and has a big heart. I loved her character! Kola was interesting: he’s loyal, stubborn, also has a big heart and would do anything for his family. However, I had a harder time connecting to him and wish he was a bit more developed!
- The side characters Bem, Yinka and my precious fairy boy, Issa were some of my favourites! Bem and Yinka are Kola’s friends/guards from home and I loved both of them and wished that we got more time with them! And then there’s Issa! A sweetheart who stole MY heart and ugh, I loved him so much! Such a wholesome little man. 😭 It’s not exactly the ‘found family’ trope but together they were a really great group of friends and they made the journey more entertaining!
Things I was on the fence about:
- The romance was a little too ‘insta’ for me. Thankfully it didn’t overshadow the plot but I just never really felt that Simi and Kola’s attraction was developed well enough. That said, it didn’t particularly annoy me or anything, I just wish that I felt differently about their love!
- This is personal preference but I’m just not a fan of open endings! This ending was also very abrupt and I really didn’t think the author would do us like that but she did (lol)! Maybe that means there’s gonna be more?! Here’s to hoping! 😉
Have you read Skin of the Sea or is it on your TBR?