This is the story of a great love – a love that will threaten worlds and anger Gods.
This is a story that will change history.
Simidele is one of the Mami Wata, mermaids duty-bound to collect the souls of those who die at sea and bless their journeys back home to the Supreme Creator.
But when a living boy is thrown overboard a slave ship, Simi saves his life, going against an ancient decree and bringing terrible danger to the mami wata.
Now Simi must journey to the Supreme Creator to make amends – a journey of vengeful gods, treacherous lands and legendary creatures. If she fails, she risks not just the fate of all Mami Wata, but also the world as she knows it.
*This ARC/Finished Copy was sent to me by Penguin Random House and NetGalley, please read our disclaimer policy for more information.*
Natasha Bowen wrote a beautiful story about love, loss, the importance of family and trust. All layered and cantered around West African mythology and folklore. Her debut novel ‘Skin of the Sea’ is a beautiful testament to the limitless mind and the power in ancestral history.
I’ve always liked fantasy books and I’ll be honest, I’m 90% sure mermaids exist.
You can’t tell me that 95% of the Earth’s oceans haven’t been explored and try to convince me otherwise.
Thus, Skin of the Sea was on my radar immediately as soon as I saw the pitch:
The Little Mermaid X Children of Blood and Bone
Now considering, Children of Blood and Bone is centred around West-African mythology and was/still is a phenomenon for Young Adult afrofuturistic literature. It doesn’t surprise me that Skin of the Sea has been compared to it.
There are similarities as with any book that talks to particular folklore. However, Bowen centers around Mami Wata and delves back to one of the horrors of human history – The TransAtlantic Slave Trade.
We’re introduced to Simi, a Mami Wata who travels the seas looking for slaves thrown overboard so she can help them crossover to the next life.
From this alone, it’s somewhat comforting and admirable that Bowen focuses on Simi like this. The middle passage is without a doubt, one of the most inhumane and disgusting moments in history. It’s said that around 12.5 million Africans were enslaved and transported to the US and the Caribbean. Of that 12.5 million, an estimated 1.8 million died on the Middle Passage – their bodies were thrown into the Atlantic sea.
Now, we all know Britain has destroyed all documents surrounding their most horrific parts in history in a movement called Operation Legacy so we have no idea how true this number is.
The fact that Simi provides some sort of comfort to those who are facing their death in a disgusting way – it’s admirable but also the reader understands her frustration and helplessness. You want Simi to do more. To tear the boats to pieces on their passage.
Bowen combines this with her love of reverting back to her human form. This was beautifully done and throughout the book, we witness Simi’s torn persona. Her love for the sea reflects her future and her human form is meant to be her past. However, the two are in constant conflict.
“I am of the sea. You know this…”
Simi can’t be both, similar to how she can’t keep trying to hold onto her past if she truly wants to embrace her duty as Mami Wata.
It’s a sharp reminder of human nature to hold onto the past. To think back to what was instead of focusing on the future. It’s incredibly hard.
I mean it leads Simi to do the unthinkable.
The love between Simi and Kola, her Prince Eric, begins to blossom slowly and I’ll be honest until I found out that this book was a duology I was confused as to how it could end like that.
Now I know that it’s a duology – I’m more hopeful as Bowen laid the serious groundwork with this book. She layers the narrative and the main character with complicated relationships and a fragmented past.
Bowen deserves serious applause for not allowing the dark past of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade to overshadow the beauty and vibrancy of West-African culture and mythology. It’s very much at the forefront of this novel and one of the reasons why I actually enjoyed this book more than I thought I would.
I think this is a very good first book and I’m curious to see what happens in the last book. The pacing was a little slow but I liked the characters. You will end the book with loads of questions and I was a little disappointed.
But I’m sure the next book will make up for it.
A great debut – considering Halle Bailey has been cast as Ariel in the Live-Action of The Little Mermaid. This is a brilliant example of diversity.
I’m ecstatic that little Black girls are able to see themselves as the extraordinary.
As God and Goddesses.
As all things that are beautiful and different.