Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s YA debut, The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea, boasts a world of pirates and magic, colonialism and rebels. It’s a fantasy saga that sounds like a mashup between Heidi Heilig’s The Girl from Everywhere and Alexandra Christo’s To Kill a Kingdom, which is a blend we can absolutely get behind.
Here’s the book description from the publisher:
The pirate Florian, born Flora, has always done whatever it takes to survive—including sailing under false flag on the Dove as a marauder, thief, and worse. Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, a highborn Imperial daughter, is on board as well—accompanied by her own casket.
But Evelyn’s one-way voyage to an arranged marriage in the Floating Islands is interrupted when the captain and crew show their true colors and enslave their wealthy passengers.
Both Florian and Evelyn have lived their lives by the rules, and whims, of others. But when they fall in love, they decide to take fate into their own hands—no matter the cost.
Candlewick Press will release The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea on May 5th. But you don’t have to wait to begin reading; you can check out an exclusive excerpt from the novel and the cover reveal below.
Cover design by Pam Consolazio and illustration by Victo Ngai
You can pre-order The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea here.
She slept restlessly.
The Dove creaked as she plodded through the sea, and it sounded as though the ship were groaning with discontent. Evelyn abdicated the night to insomnia, extricated herself from her nest of sheets, and snuck out of her cabin.
Florian slept at the door and did not wake when Evelyn opened it. His face was furrowed even in sleep, an almost imperceptible crease between his eyebrows. He was beautiful, she thought, in the way the sea was. The lamp outside her cabin cast shimmers of gold across his dark skin, calling to mind how the sun sometimes cast shimmers of gold across the surface of the sea. She tiptoed past him so he could rest.
Still unused to the rocking of the ship, she stumbled up the stairs to the deck. The sun had only just started to rise, though she’d have never known it in her berth, which was still embraced by darkness. Maybe it was always dark there. On the deck, a handful
of the crewmen were circled, yelling and hooting at something Evelyn could not see.
Sidling up to the group, unnoticed in their frenzy, she saw it: a mermaid. The creature gasped for air and thrashed upon the deck, her silver-scaled neck caught in thickly wrought net.
Evelyn had never seen a mermaid before. She’d heard stories about them, of course, knew they were real the way that dragons and magic were real: distant and exotic, denizens of the world outside Imperial reach, outside the bustle of modern colonies. There was a dragon skeleton in the Imperial Palace. She’d seen it. She thought of the drawing in her book of fairy tales, of the mermaid who reached for the sailor. It looked nothing like the one that flopped on the deck before her.
Where the illustrations always showed gloriously beautiful women with clear skin and long, flowing hair, this mermaid was small, stubbed, the size of an infant, with green and silver scales all over her body. Her eyes were awkwardly far apart on her face, more like a fish than a human, and gills flared in her cheeks. Green hair like seaweed wrapped around her neck. Her mouth gaped in silent terror.
A thickset sailor with dense arm hair nudged at the mermaid with his foot and said, “Keep it alive and we can sell it for a fine price.” It took a moment before Evelyn recognized him as Fawkes, the man who’d come and harassed Florian as she tutored him. A swell of dislike rose in her throat.
Alfie shook his head. “They never make it.”
“Let’s just have it now,” chimed in another.
“Throw her back,” Evelyn said. None of the men heard her, too engulfed in argument as they were. She took a deep breath and shouted, “Throw her back!”
The crewmen turned and regarded Evelyn with equal measures of surprise and amusement, their faces curled into question marks. Fawkes stepped toward Evelyn, his eyes shining. Evelyn took a reflexive step back. Fawkes smiled, baring his broken,
“Aw, milady, you wouldn’t begrudge seamen like ourselves a bit of extra on the side? Not all of us is so fortunate as to sleep on silks every night.” He reached out as though to touch her arm, but Evelyn flinched away. A flash of annoyance burned in his eyes. “If you’ll pardon me saying so, miss, but all sailors is desirous men.”
The mermaid’s tail thrashed against the deck with a wet smack.
“She’s scared,” Evelyn said.
A wave of chuckles passed through the crewmen. “Yep.” The sailor nodded. “So is the pike we meant to pull into this here net, but then, you wouldn’t beg clemency for them, would you?”
Tears pricked at Evelyn’s eyes and she looked away, embarrassed. How naive she must seem. Distantly, she was aware that several of the crewmen were already working to hoist a barrel full of seawater onto the deck, presumably to keep the mermaid in.
She felt a gentle pull on her elbow and turned to see that Florian had woken up. His eyes were still clouded with sleep and pain, but clearly he would not be caught away from his ward again.
“Come on, milady,” he whispered. “There’s nothing here that can be done.”
The defeat in his voice was like an anchor that held Evelyn fast. She would not let these men, these terrible men, keep or kill or touch this wonderful creature. She squared her shoulders to Fawkes. They may be bigger than she was, may better know the
sea, but Evelyn was an Imperial lady. And that had to be good for something. For once.
“Throw. Her. Back.”
No one laughed this time. All recognized the tone of command. Evelyn held the sailor’s eyes, let him see her fury. She didn’t care what he thought of her. Didn’t care if she appeared foolish. She would protect this mermaid. At least.
“What’s all this, eh?” The voice had the arrogance of privilege. Evelyn whirled to see the man she’d been told was Captain Lafayette. The men immediately straightened. This, she knew, was the man who had taken Florian’s finger. She fought the desire to
push him overboard.
“Mermaid, on the deck, sir. We pulled it up with the fishing net,” said a crewman. “Fawkes has laid his claim to it.”
Fawkes nodded. “It’ll fetch a fine price.”
Captain Lafayette did not respond. Instead, he looked to Evelyn. “Have you ever seen a mermaid before, Lady Hasegawa?”
“Come.” He took her by the elbow and guided her to the barrel filled with seawater where the mermaid now bobbed, looking forlorn. “They’re never so lovely as you might hope, the mermaids. Hardly worth the trouble they’re said to cause. But Fawkes is right. She’ll fetch a good price for him, nonetheless.”
“You’re going to let them keep her?”
Captain Lafayette smiled in a way that did not touch his eyes. “The sea does not impart many gifts, my lady. A good sailor knows to take what he can get.”
The mermaid wrapped her tiny fingers around the edge of the barrel and attempted to pull herself out. Captain Lafayette took a spyglass from his red doublet, pulled it to its full length, and smacked it, hard, against the mermaid’s hands. She let go immediately and cradled them to her chest. A splatter of black blood remained. The captain dipped a finger in the blood and, to Evelyn’s horror, licked it clean.