A delight for fans of epic quests, original world-building, and lovable Senegalese fairies.
The Mami Wata are mermaids responsible for collecting the souls of those who die at sea. They claim the souls and bless them, preparing them for the rest of their journey. Simidele knows that, as one of the Mami Wata, she’s not supposed to save the people dying at the sea. She’s definitely not supposed to fall in love with them.
Skin of the Sea is a fresh and unique take on The Little Mermaid. This delectably original tale by Natasha Bowen is action-packed and full of adventure, while its romantic subplot takes a back seat. By saving a boy who falls from a slaver’s ship instead of blessing his soul, she neglects her responsibilities, sacrificing the safety of her sisters and the goddess Yemoja.
Even though the romance between Simi and Kola (the boy she saves) isn’t at the forefront of the story, there is still clear chemistry between these two characters, making it easy to root for them. Brave, determined, and also pained, Simi is a great protagonist. The large supporting cast are also well-crafted and lovable, perhaps none more so than little Issa, the adorable and good-natured Yumbo you just want to take home and cuddle.
There is no shortage of strong female characters, always a pleasure to see in the realm of fantasy—where women have traditionally been reduced to roles of limited power. The character who springs to mind at the mention of strength is Yinka, a fierce warrior who demands respect and can teach modern audiences a thing or two about confidence.
Fantasy readers will delight in the universe that Bowen creates: one of Senegalese fairies, hyenas that can change form, West African deities and magic that makes Simi’s quest all the more heroic. The range of supernatural creatures is one of the highlights, and an element of the story that makes the world so fun to get lost in. Although the Slave Trade operates in the background, it doesn’t take over the story. And so it shouldn’t—there is much more to West African history than this disastrous event, important though it may be.
Rather than info-dumping, Bowen lays out clues and titbits from the first page that readers can use to paint their own picture of the story she’s telling. The author certainly knows how to finish each chapter in a way that leaves you wanting more. The novel contains enough twists to keep readers guessing, all of them clever and surprising while still being believable.
A blend of original fantasy, African mythology, and real history, Skin of the Sea is ideal for fans for Children of Blood and Bone or The Gilded Ones. And luckily, the ending implies that we may have a sequel to look forward to!
Reviewed by Vanessa Elle
Distributed by: Penguin Books Australia
Released: November 2021
This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not Glam Adelaide.