Review: ‘Skin of the Sea’ (‘Skin of the Sea’, #1) by Natasha Bowen

[ID: ‘Book Reviews’ and ‘Sabrina @ Notes From a Paper Plane Nomad’ in lilac and yellow text on a space-themed background.]
“In the water there are many things that mankind doesn’t know about…When you peel back the skin of the sea, you never know what you will find.”

All quotes are from the ARC (advance reader copy), which may differ to the final version.


3.8/5 paper planes

What’s This Book About?

Genre: YA Historical Fantasy (15th Century C.E.); Mythology (West African); Mermaids
Publication: November 2021
Pages: 325 (hardcover)

Synopsis: This is the story of a great love – a love that will threaten worlds and anger Gods.
This is a story that will change history.

Simidele is one of the Mami Wata, mermaids duty-bound to collect the souls of those who die at sea and bless their journeys back home to the Supreme Creator.

But when a living boy is thrown overboard a slave ship, Simi saves his life, going against an ancient decree and bringing terrible danger to the Mami Wata.

Now Simi must journey to the Supreme Creator to make amends – a journey of vengeful gods, treacherous lands and legendary creatures. If she fails, she risks not just the fate of all Mami Wata, but also the world as she knows it.

Content warnings adapted from those given in the book (highlight to see): blood; death; enslavement; violence and injury; suicide

Purchase ‘Skin of the Sea’ here through my storefront(This is my affiliate link, so if you order through this you’ll be supporting me, my blog – and indie bookshops! – at no extra cost to you.)

What I Thought:

‘Skin of the Sea’, aside from having one of the most striking and beautiful covers I’ve seen in a while, is also rich with history and mythology, different cultures, lovely writing, vivid world-building and immersive flashbacks.

The quest aspect was great, if a little unevenly paced. Some parts were quite slow and didn’t really compel me to pick the book up again, but I binged the last quarter or so until the early hours of the morning and they’re probably the most memorable chapters too. At first I didn’t find any of the side characters as compelling nor interesting as our protagonist Simi, but the latter parts made me reconsider this. This change was particularly marked for Kola, and I went from being fairly neutral about the secondary characters’ fates to actively rooting for their survival. (Did they? You’ll have to read it and see…) The romance felt quite typical for YA, but I could understand the attachment under the circumstances.

There was a supposed major ‘twist’ that was probably meant to be the biggest shocker in the book, but I saw it coming a mile off. However, there were myriad other things that I didn’t expect. One example was the ending; while I was certain that there would be a price to pay, I didn’t predict how it would play out.

I’m conflicted about the ending, though in a positive fashion. It would have been such a brave and non-formulaic way to close out a standalone, despite the lack of closure we get about some other characters. Yet I’m also so curious to see what comes next for Simi! (And certain side characters who shall remain nameless for fear of spoilers!)

‘Skin of the Sea’ was a strong debut with fascinating mythology, a high-stakes quest and a protagonist that you can really get behind. Though I still stand by my original feeling that this would have been a powerful and haunting open ending for a standalone, I’m glad that since I read this book, a sequel has been confirmed (out Sep 2022)!

Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for an eARC for an honest review.

Thank you so much for reading! Another one down for catching up with my review backlog! Have you read ‘Skin of the Sea’ or is it on your TBR? What mermaid novels or ‘The Little Mermaid’ retellings would you recommend? Let me know any thoughts below!

'notes from a paper plane nomad' written in cursive dark maroon with a lilac cartoon paper plane looping to the right.

2 thoughts on “Review: ‘Skin of the Sea’ (‘Skin of the Sea’, #1) by Natasha Bowen

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