Today is my stop on yet another book tour hosted by the wonderful people at TBR & Beyond Tours! Today’s featured book is Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen and it caught my interest as soon as I saw the cover. It’s a YA fantasy inspired by West African mythology and, y’all, there are Black mermaids. How could I not want to read it?
Before we get to my post, I want to thank the wonderful team at TBR & Beyond Tours for allowing me a spot on this tour. Don’t forget that there are other incredible bloggers and bookstagrammers participating along the way! You can check out the full schedule HERE. I also want to thank the publisher, Random House Books, and Netgalley for providing me with a free e-ARC in exchange for my participation with this tour and an honest review. It is, as always, much appreciated!
Alright, now let’s get into the post!
“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 all is not as it seems. 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.”
About the Author
Natasha Bowen is a writer, a teacher, and a mother of three children. She is of Nigerian and Welsh descent and lives in Cambridge, England, where she grew up. Natasha studied English and creative writing at Bath Spa University before moving to East London, where she taught for nearly ten years. Her debut book, Skin of the Sea, was inspired by her passion for mermaids and African history. She is obsessed with Japanese and German stationery and spends stupid amounts on notebooks, which she then features on her secret Instagram. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, watched over carefully by Milk and Honey, her cat and dog.
“You are you, Simidele. Nothing has changed that and nothing will. You haven’t lost yourself. You’re right here. And I see you.”
My goodness, what a beautiful book. Both inside and out! This is one of those moments when the gorgeousness of the cover absolutely matches what’s contained inside.
In Skin of the Sea, we’re following the story of a Mami Wata, a creature of the sea, named Simidele. But Simi was not always a Mami Wata. At one point, she was just a young girl, living with her family and enjoying life. That life was stolen from her when she was taken and sold as part of the transatlantic slave trade. Simi escaped the boat taking her across the ocean and became something more when she was changed by Yemoja, the orisa of the seas. Now her job is to collect the souls of her people that are tossed into the sea so that they may be blessed by Yemoja. But when she finds a boy alive in the ocean and decides to save him, everything changes.
This is such a powerful story filled with magic, tragedy, but, most of all, hope. I was completely wrapped up in Simi’s story from page one until the end. It was filled with beautiful folktales that were so evocative, I could see them playing out in my head. Natasha Bowen certainly has a way of weaving a story that pulls you in and captures your imagination. The world-building is vivid and lush, painting a world that is firmly rooted in the lore of our own and has a spark of magic that makes it come to life. If you want to get lost in a story, to escape into a beautifully constructed tale, you can’t go wrong with this book.
“The memories that come back to me are not always the type I want. Some I will gladly let the sea take.”
With the vividness of this story, though, comes a rather vivid look at how the transatlantic slave trade destroyed lives. This story focuses on the fantastic, but bits of the real and raw pain that came from people being stolen from their homes and crammed into unlivable conditions as they were sailed to the New World are a very potent part of this story. It’s hard to look at, hard to read, but it only adds to how much this story will get under your skin. I like that the author didn’t shy away from the hard topics, that she didn’t tone it down or make it more palatable. I will say that, especially in the beginning of this story, there may be parts that are tough to read, so please check trigger warnings. That being said, they add to the story, are well-handled, and, in my opinion, important.
“A wave of melancholy tugs at me, but I refuse to be sucked under. I knew this, I tell myself. Being here, with Kola, remembering what my life was like before, changes nothing. I am not the same, but I won’t let it stop me from doing what I need to.”
My favorite part of this story has to be our main character, Simidele. She is such an incredible character that shows such growth and strength throughout the book. She’s smart and fiercely protective. She’s gentle and kind. She doesn’t trust easily but, when she does, she trusts fully. She’s a lot of complex bits and a pieces rolled into a character that jumps off the page. She’s so real and nuanced that I found it easy to become engrossed in her story. And the other characters, though they don’t shine quite as bright as Simi, are all equally well-crafted. I’ve made no secret that I tend to love character driven stories and this one certainly didn’t let me down!
That’s not to say that there was no plot, of course! Though there were moments where the plot seemed to drag a teensy bit, this is still a story that is so engaging that you’ll find yourself flying through the pages. This is not a story that is filled with action, though it certainly has it’s moments of intensity, but it’s a story that sinks into your mind and stirs your curiosity. It keeps you yearning for more, even as you turn the last page. All in all, I’m kind of stunned that this is a debut and I can’t wait to read more from this author!
“Yet you were willing to sacrifice yourself?”
“It’s what you’re doing right now. What I’m doing again. For the good of the ones I care about, I would risk myself over and over.”
Final thoughts: This is a powerful, beautifully wrought debut that had me completely in it’s thrall. It’s a tale inspired by West African culture and folktales that pulls you into its world and does not let go. This book immediately captured my imagination and its characters captured my heart. The world-building is incredible, the imagery is lush, and I absolutely flew through the story. There were some small moments where the plot dragged a bit for me, but I still loved the story and it was certainly punctuated with plenty of nail-biting action. This is a story that has dark beginnings and touches on hard subjects, but it is ultimately a story of hope, of Black Girl Magic, and of what love can do. If you enjoy fantasy stories that delve into real history, have compelling characters, and make you want to believe in magic, then I think you would enjoy Skin of the Sea!