Skin of the Sea
Author: Natasha Bowen
Pages: 336 pages
Genre: YA Fantasy
Published: 4th March 2021
Rating: 4.5 Stars
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 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 NetGalley and Penguin Random House Children UK for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
I love reading about mermaids and this book was no exception. As a debut novel, this book was a mix of history, myths and the author’s own imagination. The mermaids are what drew me to it, but the story is what made me stay.
Skin of the Sea follows Simi, a Mama Wata (mother of water), whose job is to save the souls of the dead that end up in the sea. She does this until she finds a boy drowning, but still alive. Simi saves him, which in turn sets off a whole journey of events as she must journey to find two rings that allow her to speak to Olodumare, the superior God, in order to ask for forgiveness as she should not have saved his life. Kola, the boy she saved, joins her on her journey as he has something he desires to get home quickly for.
‘Because if you act on loving a human, your form will be revoked and you will be nothing but foam upon the sea.’
The Little Mermaid has always been one of my favourite fairytales, and I loved that this took inspiration from that, as well as history. The author notes that there are stories of Yemoja, the superior Mami Wata, comforting Africans whilst they were on the slave ships during the transatlantic slave trade. It was so interesting reading about the African mythology woven into this story and the author does a beautiful way of showing these myths. This book has lots of positive depictions of African culture and history, which was really interesting, and really important to have in fantasy books. It has made me want to know more.
‘You were the one to find someone alive. To save them. Save me. And now, because of that, you’re doing even more.’
In addition to the worldbuilding, I loved the strong characters of Simi and Kola. I like dhow they grew closer over the course of the novel, despite Simi being forbidden to ever love a human, as she would turn to foam. The ending was a little bittersweet, and I was a tad disappointed but it fit with the story. Simi and Kola were both conplex characters in their own right. Simi was struggling with having flashes of memories from when she was human and seemed to be yearning for that feeling once again. Kola was very family-oriented, which I loved, and he never gave up.
I really recommend this fantasy book, as not only is it rich in African culture, myths and knowledge, but it is a beautiful story about mermaids and long journeys. I loved it!