Reviews of Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen

Skin of the Sea

by Natasha Bowen

Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen X
Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Nov 2021, 336 pages

    Paperback:
    Jul 26, 2022, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Michelle Anya Anjirbag
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About this Book

Book Summary

An unforgettable fantasy debut inspired by West African mythology, this is Children of Blood and Bone meets The Little Mermaid, in which a mermaid takes on the gods themselves.

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 if she doesn't, then she risks not only the fate of all Mami Wata, but also the world as she knows it.

Chapter One

I circle the ship with the sharks, slipping between dark waves. The water is layered with cold currents, sea creatures, and a ship that slices through it with cargo holds full of stolen people. I swim underneath the swells, away from the gaze of men and just out of the reach of jaws.

Waiting.

The hull of the vessel is a shadow above me, and as I follow the line of the keel, my chest tightens, hot rage building against my rib cage. I spin away as fish flit around me, stretching my fingers up toward watery sunbeams. It has been weeks since I have felt the burn of a midday sun. I miss basking in its light, letting the heat soak into my bones. Closing my eyes, I reach for a memory that twists and coils like smoke. I'm sitting on red-brown earth under the dappled shade of a mahogany tree, splashes of sun on my hot skin. Eagerly, I grasp for more, but as usual, the vision fades.

My stomach churns with disappointment as sharp as red coral. Every time, the loss feels the same, as ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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The novel is intriguing. Simi's perspective is immersive and driven by emotion as she slowly remembers pieces of her life, including her own experience with captivity. However, Bowen does not focus only on the one historical experience. In her author's note she writes that this novel allowed her "to tell a story of Black characters from ancient empires, showcasing their power and magnificence." She achieves her goal, neither skirting nor dwelling on the horrors of slavery, and also providing a rich and layered look at West African life from that period of time beyond the narrative of captivity, something seen too little in historically-rooted fantasies...continued

Full Review Members Only (611 words).

(Reviewed by Michelle Anya Anjirbag).

Media Reviews

NPR
Riveting ... I'm sure that Simi has many ardent fans to await her further adventures.

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Those who have been riveted by the many new West African-inspired novels of the last few years including Children of Blood and Bone and The Gilded Ones will find this a worthy addition to the genre, and readers new to an African fantasy setting have an excellent introduction here.

The New York Times
Bowen has built an impressive mythology to buttress her fairy tale, and it's a pleasure to discover this world through Simi's eyes.

Entertainment Weekly
An evocative debut.

The Horn Book
Bowen combines a classic quest plot with a rich and still-underrepresented mythology ... [an] inventive supernatural fantasy.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
The vibrant focus on West African religious traditions organically enriches beloved, familiar elements...in a story bursting with innovative inspiration, such as maps braided into hair that showcase West African civilizations' mathematical prowess. A divine debut that explores the glories of West African myth, religion, and history.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In Bowen's dazzling debut, rooted in West African mythology and mid-1400s history, Simidele is a mermaid, or Mami Wata, tasked by orisa Mother Yemoja to collect and usher to the afterlife the souls of deceased West African people thrown overboard from passing slave ships...Bowen relays a story as lushly described as it is cinematic, centering a brave, headstrong protagonist coming into her own power in an age of change.

School Library Journal (starred review)
Despite its heavy subject matter, this book is a testament to the strength of the human spirit amid tragedy that never shies away from the horrors it conveys. Give this book to everyone, but especially fans of mythological and well-crafted fantasy.

Author Blurb Kalynn Bayron, bestselling author of Cinderella Is Dead
A triumph of storytelling.

Author Blurb Namina Forna, New York Times bestselling author of The Gilded Ones
Knocks your socks off and leaves you wanting more.

Author Blurb Nicola Yoon, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Instructions for Dancing
One of the most epic and original fantasies I've read.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Mermaids and Water Spirits Around the World

Golden statue of Yoruba deity Yemoja as a mermaid resting on rocksSimi, the main character in Natasha Bowen's Skin of the Sea, is a Mami Wata, a water deity from West African mythology who is described in the novel as having a mermaid form. While the red-headed Ariel of Disney fame might be the dominant image of what a mermaid looks like for many people, they come in many forms from all over the world, and many different storytelling traditions. The Yoruba deity Yemoja is often pictured as a mermaid, and Bowen cites this as a source of inspiration for her take on a mermaid story.

Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" did much to solidify the image of what mermaids are and whose story traditions they belong in, as did Disney's later film adaptation. European concepts of mermaids have heavily ...

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