Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen #bookreview #YA #fantasy #AfricanMythology #TuesdayBookBlog

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.

The comp titles for this book intrigued me. Children of Blood and Bone has magnificent world-building, and who doesn’t like The Little Mermaid? Any mermaid who takes on the gods sounded like someone I wanted to meet.

Once a human, Simi is now a Mami Wata (mermaid) whose responsibility is to collect the souls of those claimed by the sea and bless their journeys back home. When the body of a teen boy is thrown overboard, she’s shocked to discover he’s still alive, and instead chooses to save him. Her act of mercy puts the lives of all Mami Wata in danger, and to save them she must find the Supreme Creator and seek forgiveness. Although Simi appreciates the importance and significance of her duties, she also misses aspects of her human life, which she can’t entirely remember. When her journey begins on land (her tail transforms into legs), memories and flashbacks from her human life become more prominent, and she’s reminded of what she lost.

Simi is feisty and courageous, two qualities desperately needed to take on Esu, messenger to their Creator. He’s power hungry and a threat to both the Mami Wata and Kola’s village. Esu is described as a trickster, which immediately made me think of Loki from Marvel Comics. They certainly share some similar qualities, and not the admirable ones.

It’s clear from nearly the moment they meet that Simi and Kola have feelings for each other, but I wasn’t feeling the chemistry between them. It comes across as very “insta-love”, and until somewhere around the middle of the book, very little is known about Kola. Revealing his backstory earlier would have distinguished him as more than just the guy Simi saved and a traveling companion.

This is an outstanding debut filled with lush descriptions, immersive world-building, and fascinating African mythology. It doesn’t shy away from the horrors of the slave trade during that time period, but also doesn’t go into extensive detail. The ending leaves a strong possibility for a sequel, but I haven’t seen anything on Goodreads to suggest one is coming. If that’s the case, I’d be disappointed with the way things wrapped up – keeping my fingers crossed!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.