Book Tour: Skin of the Sea

Happy release day to SKIN OF THE SEA, by debut author Natasha Bowen! I’m so excited to share a review, some of my favorite quotes, and even a playlist with you all to celebrate the release of this amazing YA fantasy debut inspired by West African mythology — described as The Little Mermaid meets Children of Blood and Bone. Thanks so much to TBR and Beyond Tours for letting me be a tour host for this awesome book tour!

Natasha Bowen is a writer, teacher, and 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 for 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.

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 is she doesn’t then she risks not only the fate of all Mami Wata, but also the worlds as she knows it.

My Review!

CW/TW: Please note that parts of this book may be triggering for readers, as this novel blends fifteenth century history with fantasy, and there are depictions of violence, enslavement, death, and suicide. My review contains some mentions of these aspects of the book.

“Here is a story. Story it is…”

I love a good mermaid story, so I was excited to pick up this debut — and I was not disappointed! Not unlike many Little Mermaid retellings, this one certainly has dark aspects; these heavier moments really made the book what it is, however, and I felt like this was a wholly unique and fresh take on YA mermaid fantasies.

As mentioned in the content warnings, SKIN TO THE SEA melds fifteenth century history — specifically the beginning of kidnapping and enslavement of West Africans by the Portugese — with West African mythology. In particular, Mami Wata and Yemoja. The Mami Wata in SKIN OF THE SEA are mermaids who rescue the lost souls of those who die in the sea, and escort them home. I thought the blend of mythology and history created not only a captivating world that I felt completely enmeshed in, but also an incredibly compelling story.

“The sea and its waves enfold and cradle me. I am Simidele, ‘follow me home.'”

Simi is a Mami Wata who does the forbidden, and rescues a boy from the sea, leading to her journey to beg forgiveness from the gods. She was such an engaging protagonist — I was rooting for her every step of the way. I love characters who are given as much depth as she is, and are allowed to express so many emotions. She’s fierce and brave, but still has fears and traumas she’s grappling with. She’s protective and loving, but also filled with righteous anger and doesn’t shy from violence.

“Since he loves red and black so much, I would decorate him in the crimson of his blood.”

Reader, I YELLED.

Though the plot captured me and I felt invested in the outcome, I felt more sucked in by the world-building and character interactions in this novel. SKIN OF THE SEA does such an amazing job of approaching a traumatic and horrifying history, but melding it with a story that centers the history and lives of the people within it. SKIN OF THE SEA is filled with violence and hurt, yes, but there are also so many moments of love between families, romance, and glimpses into lives filled with delicious food, beautiful clothes and fashion, and customs and traditions. As Bowen states in the Author’s Note, Black history doesn’t start with slavery. SKIN TO THE SEA is a story rich with depictions of fierce love and spirit, not just pain and trauma, and Simi is a character that encapsulates so much of that as she struggles to fulfill her duty and fights against her feelings for the boy she rescued.

“Our world is full of repeating patterns that we discover in nature and that we create…and while the shape may change, as it repeats, it always remains the same. It’s the reason the people of our lands lay out cities the way they do, the reason they use certain designs in their art, their hair. The patterns of life are everywhere and they are never-ending.”

SKIN TO THE SEA was full of action, heart-wrenching emotion, and compelling characters that made it impossible to put down. With a bold finale that had me on the edge of the seat, I look forward to hopefully reading more of this world!

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