In Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s self-assured debut, The Mermaid, The Witch, and the Sea, an imperialist system clashes with the ancient power of the sea while two teens from different backgrounds find unexpected love.
Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, the black sheep of an aristocratic family, faces a journey aboard a ship called the Dove that she’s been dreading: She’s being married off to a stranger. A member of the Dove’s crew, Florian—born Flora—has been assigned to attend to Lady Evelyn. Tough and capable of handling the violence common to the harsh world of the Dove, Florian is working to earn enough to return with her troubled brother, Alfie, to their homeland.
Lady Evelyn surprises Florian at every turn with kindness, humor and openness. But their growing relationship is a problem, because the Dove isn’t a passenger vessel. It’s a pirate ship whose passengers have no idea that the captain and crew plan to sell them into slavery.
This intriguing premise blooms into an enchanting, complex tale that explores politics, piracy and the magic of storytelling itself. In Tokuda-Hall’s world, witches can use words to coax magic out of any object, a pirate’s honor is signaled by their relationship with the sea and mermaids can both preserve and destroy memories. Tokuda-Hall’s imperialist political system, clearly inspired by the Japanese and British Empires, is brilliantly detailed. While the romance between Evelyn and Florian moves quickly, both characters have well-defined perspectives and appealing motivations.
Queer and gender nonconforming characters are everywhere, and their normalization within the world of the book is remarkable and praiseworthy. A strikingly original and accomplished debut, The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea reads like an undiscovered classic with impressively modern flair.