by Sarah Henning
Published on July 31, 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
Genres: Fantasy, Historical, Young Adult
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.
The rise of Hans Christian Andersen’s iconic villainess is a heart-wrenching story of friendship, betrayal, and a girl pushed beyond her limits—to become a monster.
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Give me all the villain origin stories BUT. . . I’m not sure Sea Witch completely sold me.
Set prior to what most of us are familiar with as the story of The Little Mermaid, Henning takes us on a trip to magical Denmark and the home of Evelynn. Blossoming witch and best friends with the crown prince, Evie has already felt loss in her life and has received nothing but cruelty from the citizens of her town. Everything about Evie screamed “pity me, feel for me and my situation” and I did.
But I wasn’t invested in her story.
This is the start of the sea witch, the so-called villain of The Little Mermaid tale. I was interested the moment I read the synopsis, but the story moves so slowly for the longest time that all that interest dwindled into mild entertainment. I stopped reading several times. I read a couple other books in the time it took me to finish Sea Witch. It just. . . something wasn’t there.
I think, for starters, I was expecting more of the fantastical elements but it read more historical. Which actually wasn’t a bad thing because I don’t see it often, with the magic interwoven with the culture and I really appreciated that level to detail. Then there’s the story itself, very familiar but also slightly twisted.
Evie once had two close friends, the crown prince Nik, and Anna. They lost Anna years before to the sea and nothing has been the same since. And that theme of friendship is so prominent throughout the book that I have to commend the author for the friendship goals of Nik and Evie. Well, until the end and then I wasn’t too happy with how that particular relationship turned out, but I’ll leave it at that.
But what’s a re-telling without mermaids? And there was indeed a mermaid with a secret. Annemette appears in Evie’s life and changes everything, but Evie’s rose-tinted glasses around her newfound friend just wasn’t doing it for me. It went from Evie hoping her lost friend had returned to wanting her to be there and compensating with Annemette.
The only person in their little group who seemed to recognize the weirdness of the whole situation was Iker, Nik’s cousin and the love interest of Evie. He didn’t trust Annemette’s presence and that mistrust made it far to easy to guess and confirm one of the plot twists near the end.
Honestly, there wasn’t much I didn’t guess well ahead of time and the story lost the shock-and-awe of it all.
I pushed through to the end of Sea Witch and the story picked up. . . a bit. I still didn’t care about the characters, who were well-written but fairly bland and unmemorable. But I knew the “big ending” was approaching so I expected to feel something, finally. And I did.
The ending is heartbreaking. But it’s the kind of heartbreak you feel from a distance, like a friend telling you a sad story about someone they know. You feel bad, but it’s not the same as true gut-wrenching sadness (like what I experienced reading The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen).
Sea Witch is unusual and long-winded, and I think that it might appeal to a certain audience. But for a villain origin story, I wasn’t feeling it. For a re-telling, I think the elements were there but it lacked the hook (hah, because fish. . . yeah I know). It was just a bit too boring for my tastes.