Sunday, March 4, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Sea Witch by Sarah Henning

NOTE: This book has not yet been released. I was given a free Advance Reading Copy by HarperCollins and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This book will be released on July 31, 2018. If you would like to send me an ARC, please see this page.

TITLE: Sea Witch

AUTHOR: Sarah Henning

GENRE: fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY: Ever since her friend Anna drowned four years ago, Evelyn has led a difficult life, forced to hide her magical abilities from the village she lives in, and shoulder the scorn of the royal family, who don't like Evie's friendship with their son, Nik. When Nik falls into the sea, he is rescued by Annemette, a mysterious young woman who's the spitting image of Anna. Annemette explains to Evie that she's a mermaid, and the only way for her to remain on land is to gain the love of a human. If she doesn't succeed within three days, she'll be turned to sea foam. Determined to save her new friend, Evie agrees to help Annemette win Nik's love. But the cost for keeping Annemette on land is far higher than Evie could've imagined.

FIRST THOUGHTS: Yes, it's me, reviewing a fairy tale retelling. Shocking, I know. And, as you may have gleaned from the summary, Sea Witch gives the Elphaba treatment to, well, the sea witch from The Little Mermaid. I won't call her "Ursula" since this isn't teeeeeeeeechnically based off the Disney version, but... come on. That movie is always what pops into your head first when you hear the words "The Little Mermaid" (or, hell, even the word "mermaid," period), and I can clearly see its influences here. (That's not a criticism, though; some parts of pop culture are just so deeply ingrained into our heads that there's no getting them back out.) I was really excited to receive this ARC, and while it wasn't exactly what I expected, it's a solid retelling.

THOUGHTS ON PLOT: My biggest complaint about this book is that it was extremely slow to get started. Getting through the first quarter took me the better part of a week. A lot of the first chapters are spent on exposition, worldbuilding, and flashbacks -- and, don't get me wrong, those parts are necessary and serve their purpose well, but it was hard for me not to be wondering when the story would really pick up. However, once it did, I couldn't put it down. Told over the course of about five days, with lots of flashbacks thrown in, this is a very compelling and interesting origin story for the Sea Witch. While I did find the ending to be a bit confusing, and the love triangle was really, REALLY tedious (once I realized what was going on I was like "oh God, please don't go there," but they did), I was seriously drawn into Evie's story, and her gradual transformation into the fairy tale villain we all know. While there are some aspects of the story that could've been handled better -- the aforementioned love triangle, the exposition, and, frankly, I found the reasons for Evie being an outcast due to her friendship with Nik to be a bit contrived -- I thought that the overarching story of Annamette's quest to become human and Evie's friendship with her was a really great plot.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: For this section, I'm going to hone in on Evie and Annemette, mainly because they're the only characters that came off as three-dimensional. I mean, I liked Nik, I guess, and Iker had potential, but neither were as well-developed as they could've been. (Which was unfortunate, as they're the romantic interests.) However, I'm knocking off too many points for that, because Evie and Annemette were both incredibly well-developed, and their relationship was one of the best written platonic relationships I've seen in YA recently. (Though I did get a bit of a gay vibe off of them a few times. Queer Goggles, what can I say -- I couldn't turn 'em off, even if I wanted to.) While I did think Evie was a bit too good (come on, it's a villain origin story, give me some darkness!), I found her very easy to empathize with, and she made for a great narrator. Annemette was a perfect foil to her, mixing sweetness with darkness, and their layered and complicated relationship was what held the story together.

8 / 10

THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: Aside from the exposition-related issues I mentioned above, this is a very well-written novel. I loved the mermaid mythology it used, combining both the author's own ideas with the classic ideas that Hans Christian Andersen used. I also thought that the flashbacks were really well-utilized, providing insight into all of our main characters -- especially the villain. Although, as mentioned above, I was a bit confused by the epilogue, and I wasn't thrilled with the love triangle, once the plot finally got into full-swing, I was fully engrossed by this book.

7 / 10

THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: Gonna keep this brief. No POC, no queer people, no minorities of any kind. Bleh. That said, the female characters are well-written, and I was glad to see a female villain that's motivated by something other than love or vanity, which seem to be the go-to motives for evil women in fiction.

5 / 10

FINAL THOUGHTS: Although it took me awhile to get into, Sea Witch is a highly enjoyable fantasy. It stands on its own, but if Sarah Henning decides to write a sequel, I certainly won't complain. I think the story of Evie and Annemette has a lot more potential. But, if it does remain a standalone, I'm happy with that, too. If you're looking for a fresh take on The Little Mermaid, I highly recommend checking out this book once it hits the shelves.

FINAL GRADE: 6.75 / 10


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