"She had often thought of casket girls with pity -- that their parents would be so crass, that their lives would be so transparently close to death, that their futures would be so blindingly arranged."
'The Mermaid, The Witch, and The Sea' by Maggie Tokuda-Hall is a dramatic adventure filled with characters struggling to define themselves, while surviving a world that seems bent on destroying them.
This shifting narrative told from multiple viewpoints, mainly focuses around a somewhat wild imperial lady.. Evelyn and the pirate Florian.. assigned to guard her.
Flora, one half of a pair of desperate orphans and crew member of the pirate ship, the Dove.. has taken on the identity of Florian. In part, it's a matter of survival amongst the men, but it's also part of their journey of self-discovery.
"Know your truth, not your story."
Lady Evelyn Hasegawa is a casket girl. She's been sold into an arranged marriage by parents who seem to have little regard for her. Sent with her things packed neatly into her coffin, a provision offered to the husband to be. She's always been rebellious and 'crooked' in her mother's eyes. Never quite ladylike enough, but to be separated from her only friend.. sent away across the sea to assume the role of wife suddenly, is more than she can fathom.
Inexorably drawn to one another, Evelyn and Florian attempt to escape the ship and free a captured mermaid who is coveted for the effects of her blood. A prize worth a pretty penny.
"She was not a creature of courage, but she was one of spite. This one little rebellion would sate that, at least."
Tokuda-Hall did a fantastic job of merging swashbuckling fantasy with a brooding sea magic that almost feels like it's infused with primordial Titan mythology. I loved the author's take on mermaids and their connection with the sea itself, as well as all the complex layers of deceit happening amongst the cast.
We do get to meet some other great characters like Alfie, Florian's soul broken brother.. and boy is his a story. There's also Rake, the first mate, Lafayette, the Nameless Captain.. known as such from a unique over-indulgence, Lady Ayer, a childhood friend of Evelyn's mother who sticks close on the voyage, and Xenobia, a healer they meet on a far away land. Fawkes is particularly nasty, but in the most basic of ways.. there's the Pirate Supreme, Xoan, who is loyal to the sea first, and I found Evelyn's betrothed.. the Commander, to be intriguing as can be.
"She'd tried to love him out of it, nagging and begging and pleading with him. But there was nothing she could do, and she'd long since lost the energy to fight the currents so bent on drowning him."
The book certainly holds plenty of surprises for its readers and you won't be disappointed if you're looking for something original, that's smoothly crafted, and poses questions of identity.. both in who we believe ourselves to be and how others see us. I found every character led a bit of a brutal life, when you looked closely at them. It was simply the way of their world.
The characters are incredibly diverse and I found myself deeply invested in the outcome for several of them. I enjoyed seeing them reach understandings about themselves and their predicaments.. conclusions about how.. even when.. to take action. In some cases, being figuratively blasted out of complacent lives in a moment of realization that they needed to make a decision because no one else was going to.