Hello Humans! Today I am reviewing Sarah Henning’s Sea Witch, that’s right – it’s time to add to the year of ALL THE RETELLINGS. I read multiple Little Mermaid retellings in June and (because I am a useless human who can’t immediately write book reviews) it took me a moment to tease them all apart! What makes this retelling different is that this is The Little Mermaid from the perspective of a friend of the prince, and with a dark undercurrent (pun intended).
Everyone knows what happens in the end.
A mermaid, a prince, a true love’s kiss.
But before that young siren’s tale, there were three friends.
One feared, one royal, and one already dead.
Ever since her best friend, Anna, drowned, Evie has been an outcast in her small fishing town. A freak. A curse. A witch.
A girl with an uncanny resemblance to Anna appears offshore and, though the girl denies it, Evie is convinced that her best friend actually survived. That her own magic wasn’t so powerless after all. And, as the two girls catch the eyes—and hearts—of two charming princes, Evie believes that she might finally have a chance at her own happily ever after.
But her new friend has secrets of her own. She can’t stay in Havnestad, or on two legs, unless Evie finds a way to help her. Now Evie will do anything to save her friend’s humanity, along with her prince’s heart—harnessing the power of her magic, her ocean, and her love until she discovers, too late, the truth of her bargain.
The rise of Hans Christian Andersen’s iconic villainess is a heart-wrenching story of friendship, betrayal, and a girl pushed beyond her limits—to become a monster.
What I liked about this version of this story is that it felt very different from the original. Sometimes it can feel like a retelling is just a kind of mad-libs version of a story, where certain words have been swapped out for others but other than that the story continues as normal. In this case, the sense is more of a story rooted in the ideas in The Little Mermaid but with a more of a human perspective. I feel like I’ve read alternative Mermaid stories from the perspectives of princes, and mermaids but I’ve not read one that brought in a whole new character as this one does. I say new character, it’s a little more complex than that, but to reveal it would be spoilers.
It’s an interesting angle to take. So often in Little Mermaid retellings, once the mermaid is out of the water not only has she lost her voice but she also has no allies, there are no characters who truly relate to her – beyond the odd kindly servant. I thought the idea of creating almost a friendship between Evie and the Little Mermaid was a powerful tool through which to tell the story. I am always here for connections forged between women, but it feels particularly poignant in a story where the original has a voiceless woman in it.
I cannot speak to the accuracy or research done into the magic system in this book, but it feels fairly generic ‘villagers and long lines of witches’ without too many specific details. I didn’t mind that too much in this instance as part of the point is that Evie hasn’t studied her magic, that raw and uncontrollable aspect is a key part of her character.
I thought that the various relationships (other than that between the witch and the little mermaid) were interesting. I appreciated that Evie and the Prince were set up to be just friends, I am always a supporter of platonic love in books and I don’t read enough of it. There is also a romance in this story, wouldn’t be a retelling without a bit of romance, but I thought it was well handled and didn’t overtake the plot.
And what a plot. As I say this is a Little Mermaid retelling and then some. I think the easiest comparison I can draw is to The Wicked Deep. I had that same feeling of something being a little off but still being shocked when the reveal came. Obviously, I won’t spoil that here but I do think it’s an exceptional way of making changes to the original story while still retaining the melancholy nature of Hans Christian Anderson’s original story.
I read this book in one day, essentially, I thought it was paced well, it’s not a difficult read but it also doesn’t feel patronising or overly simplified. I enjoyed it hugely and will be adding it to my list of ‘mermaid books that don’t suck’.
My rating: 4/5 stars
I received a digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, all opinions are my own.
What say you? Which mermaid books are your favourites? Let me know in the comments below!