Sea Witch by Sarah Henning
This book reminded me just what it was I loved about villain stories. It’s not perfect but there’s enough mystery and shocks to make it wonderfully addictive reading.
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.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I love a good villain story and this book made me remember exactly why that is. There’s just something so unpredictable about it, even though I thought I knew what the story would be it somehow managed to take me completely by surprise. The only thing I was sure of was that something bad was going to happen and the main character probably wouldn’t be getting a happily ever after. It’s an uneasy and frustrating feeling but it makes for some truly addictive reading.
Despite being yet another mermaid story (there seems to be a lot of them around at the moment) there was something different and completely unexpected about Sea Witch. I was anticipating a version of the Little Mermaid or a prequel but it was unclear in the beginning how this story fit with the fairytale we all know and love. For one thing the majority of the story is set in the 19th century in a small fishing port on the coast of Denmark. It follows Evie, a 16 year old girl, daughter of a fisherman and best friend to the Crown Prince.
She’s considered a bit of an outcast by everyone, in part due to her friendship with the Prince, Nik, but also due to the rumours of witchcraft surrounding her. This reputation is not particularly helped by death seeming to follow her around. First her mother dies saving her life and then best friend Anna drowns while they are both swimming in the sea.
Things begin to change however when a storm hits on the birthday of the Prince, washing him overboard from the ship they’re holding the celebrations on. He’s rescued by a mermaid who bears a remarkable resemblance to Anna and has a beautiful voice just like her friend had. When this mermaid reappears a few days later, transformed into a girl her own age and on a quest to win the heart of the Prince, Evie vows to help her. But appearances are not always what they appear to be.
I absolutely loved how unpredictable this story was. There are so many twists and turns I had no idea how it was going to end and there were more than a couple of moments which had me literally open mouthed with shock. There is this constant sense that there’s something not quite right and that disaster is approaching for Evie but it’s impossible to tear yourself away.
I liked Evie as a character but I have to confess she frustrated the hell out of me. Her intentions, while sometimes a little selfish, are generally good and she is completely loyal to those she cares about. But, it becomes clear very early on that she’s far too trusting and loyal and that she takes too many risks as a result, messing with things she doesn’t fully understand.
The other characters I wasn’t so sure about. Nik, the high born Prince is a little bit wishy washy and his cousin, who is Evie’s love interest, is never entirely convincing either. The romance between them seems too sudden and to me his feelings didn’t feel genuine. Mermaid turned human Annemette (who may or may not in fact be Anna) is a more intriguing character but at times felt a little over done.
There’s a lot of romance in this story and not one but two love triangles, neither of which I really bought into. Grumpy old cynic that I am I find the notion of true love and being willing to die for someone a bit much for a 16 year old. What interested me a lot more was the relationship between Evie and Anna/Annemette and also the magic system in this world.
I thought the way the magic centered around the sea and was based on a kind of barter system (to get something you have to give something) was wonderful, and a little bit terrifying. Everything has consequences and Evie, who is encouraged to mess with magic by Annemette, has no idea what these could be. It’s intriguing and frustrating and at times breathtaking. When everything is finally revealed I found myself on the edge of my seat, the conclusion is truly epic (and heartbreaking) and totally worth plodding through teenage romance for.
I’d recommend this to anyone who loves fairytale inspired stories without the happily ever after and doesn’t mind a love triangle (or two).
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all thoughts are my own