Cover Image: Skin of the Sea

Skin of the Sea

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Member Reviews

Skin of the Sea was one of my highly anticipated books for the year and it didn't disappoint.

This is a hard book to read at times.  Please make sure you read the author's note at the beginning.

Simi was brought back to life by Yemoja.  She was made into Mami Wata.  She's a mermaid that gathers souls of those that pass in the sea.  There are a lot of slave boats and when a boy goes over, Simi is there to retrieve his soul.  But this boy is still alive.  She knows she can't just let him die, so Simi saves him.  When Simi calls the orisa, she is told that what she did will mean their deaths.  She's sent on a mission to find rings that can summon Olodumare to ask for forgiveness.  But there is someone else that wants those rings.  Simi starts to enjoy her time with Kola, the boy she saved.  But she knows that it would be forbidden to have a relationship with him.  

Simi doesn't remember much from her past.  It's basically erased when she's not in human form.  But throughout the book, she has memories or her time with her family.  There is a lot of fast paced action throughout and I really loved reading about the orisas and the different creatures.  

I gave this book 4  1/2 stars rounded up to 5 on Goodreads.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my earc.
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I was sold the second I saw black mermaids. 

Skin of the Sea is a gorgeously culture-driven historical fantasy that drops readers directly into a vast, magical world based on African mythology and blends the ideas flawlessly. 

Lovers of the classic Little Mermaid story will no doubt be drawn to this beautifully written book. The detailed description is so immersive and transports you directly into the setting with ease, which is always a plus in fantasies like this. This book is definitely more of a direct retelling than I expected it to be, and for that reason, the plot is very easy to follow and predict for the most part, but those who enjoy fairytale retellings will not see that as an issue. 

I am also a sucker for books that teach me something new without feeling educational. The amount of African mythology and magical creatures I learned about from this book will stick with me for a very long time, and I love how each aspect of the history and culture was incorporated so naturally in Simi's narration. Her perspective as a human turned Mami Wata is an excellent POV to tell this story from. 

My only qualms lie in the sudden and insistent romantic plot, which felt necessary to the overarching story, but the characters simply lacked the natural chemistry and development I would have liked to see. That, and the suddenness of the ending, which was so jarring that I'm still reeling from it, though the snippet of the planned sequel does make me feel better knowing that it wasn't the end.
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Thank you NetGalley and publisher for a E-arc copy. 
I was super hyped for this release, we follow Simi who has become a mermaid to help gather and bless the souls of those who die at sea. The author/publisher took time to add TW to the beginning which I greatly appreciated because the author focused on the souls lost at sea from slave ships. Simi has a hard time with her new way of life, she likes to on land which is her only way to really remember her life before becoming Mami wata. One day she come across a boy whose isn’t dead and breaks the oath she made and saves him. When Yemoja finds out she tasks both Simi and Kola with finding the rings to summon the great god to beg forgiveness. But the closer they get to taking Kola home and getting the rings the more complicated things get. 
I really enjoyed this book. It’s exactly what I wanted it to be and the author did not disappoint. My one complaint that kept it from being a 5 star read was that it ended very abruptly.
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I loved Skin of the Sea. I loved being introduced to new mythology and a culture I wasn't familiar with, I loved the representation of POC in YA fantasy fiction, I loved how rich and atmospheric the storytelling was. The thing I felt held this novel back from being great was the romance aspect. From the description I thought I was going to be getting a different kind of story, and it seemed a great disservice to Simidele and her purpose and duty to introduce a romance that didn't feel authentic and genuine; the trope of forcing a heroine to have a love interest instead of embracing an honorable duty needs to be retired and Skin of the Sea would have benefited from cutting it out.
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Skin of the Sea is a beautiful mermaid tale, that pulls from West African mythology. Upon Simi's death, she was transformed into a Mami Wata. The mermaid's only task is to collect the souls who die at sea and help them on their journey onward. But when she breaks the rules and saves a boy from the waves, she's pulled into a quest much bigger than any she had imagined.
Natasha Bowen did a remarkable job with this story, creating engaging characters while intertwining a mythology many readers will be unfamiliar with.
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Simi is a Mami Wata, a chosen one of the goddess Yamaya, who created her in her mermaid form. She collects the souls of those who die at sea, namely those who fall from the ships of slavers. With little memory of her past, Simi questions very little until she finds one of those kidnapped people still alive when she reaches him. Unbeknownst to her, she breaks an ancient decree and is forced to go on a journey to save not only the other Mami Wata but the human world as she knows it.

This book was a beautiful mix of West African mythology and adventure. I did not find it similar to <i> The Little Mermaid </i> in any way, but found it more to close to the Percy Jackson series or <i> Children of Blood and Bone </i>. It is truly its own entity, though, and the journey is the center stage of this read. 

I think what I struggled with was a lack of depth in terms of the characters. Both Simi and Kola were quite one-note; not really imperfect in any way, but also not extremely round characters either. I was not invested in their well-being as much as I was in the progress of the story itself. As I said, the journey was really what I cared about, along with the mythology that centered that journey. 

All in all: This was a very rich story that needed just a little bit more for me. I'm glad I read it, but it was not the most compelling piece of literature I've read lately, which is SO disappointing, because I loved the concept of blending myth to emphasize the horrors of the 1400s in Africa.

I do not want to spoil anything about this book, so ignore this last part if even slight hints bother you. I reveal nothing specific but do mention how I feel about the ending: The ending was the most fiercely disappointing thing I have ever read. If this is a standalone, you will be left absolutely baffled. If it's not a standalone... I am interested to see what more could be said here.
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Skin of the Sea is an absolutely enchanting debut novel from Natasha Bowen. Simi is one of seven mami wata, mermaids whose duty it is to collect the souls of those who die at sea, sending them on their journey to the creator, Olodumare. But after a living boy is thrown from a slave ship, Simi makes the decision to save his life, unwittingly breaking a rule and putting the fate of the mami wata in grave danger. To make things right, Simi must find Olodumare, but in order to do so, she needs the help of the boy she saved. With their fates more intertwined than either initially suspected, the two set out on a journey to not only right their personal wrongs but to save the world itself.

It’s a beautiful, melancholy story with rich world-building, captivating mythology, and incredible character development. Simi, in particular, is an outstanding protagonist. Bowen does a wonderful job exploring her struggles navigating between her current mermaid identity and the memories and longing for her previous human life.
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Thank you SO MUCH to NetGalley and the publisher, Random House, for the opportunity to read this book. The cover compelled me to request this and then when I read the synopsis I was floored. West African mythology mixed with The Little Mermaid? Heck yeah!

The beginning was good but I felt like things really picked up about 100 pages in, and I could not put it down. Things start out sounding lovely and calm in the sea (you know, except for Simi having to collect the souls of dead people in the water, but that's neither here nor there), but the situation winds up taking a very dark turn. The imagery in this story is GORGEOUS, and Bowen has a truly beautiful writing style. This story contains adventure, love, friendships, family, danger, darkness, and daring. I loved it.
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Little Mermaid takes on a African tale.
Soulful, strong, fantasy. A great woman takes on the males in her life.
Incredible fantasy story!
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First off, this book cover is gorgeous and made me want to read the book!

As for the story, there is so much to like. I love our main character Simidele. She is a Mami Wata/mermaid and she blesses the journeys of the dead, mostly people who are found dead in the sea thrown off slave ships. We learn about Simi’s past life through memories and flashbacks. As a Mami Wata she is supposed to let go of her past but memories always resurface for her and it’s poignant and heartbreaking especially when you know what happens to Simi and how she becomes a mermaid. But Simi is courageous and strong and so graceful She honors the gods/orishas and when she has to go against one, she does it because she cares for others, Kola and his family plus the Mami Wata family.

Kola is the boy Simi saves in the water and she helps him get back to his family. When there, they must go on a quest to find his special twin siblings and rings that would help save the Mami Wata. Kola is a leader and sometimes headstrong. Simi definitely looks to him for strength and it’s interesting because he’s the first alive human she’s interacted since becoming a mermaid. The romance between them is barely there, and not a main focus of the story because the quest is at the forefront.

There are some great secondary characters in the book like Issa and Yinka. It was interesting to learn about the different gods in the story. The world building was wonderful as we get to know the gods and how they interfere with the lives of humans and how they get into situations among themselves as well.

An emotional part of the book is when we find out about Simi’s past and Kola’s present. They were both on slaver ships and we get a small part of the trauma from what Simi and Kola experienced on the ships but it’s heart wrenching, especially Simi’s backstory. But what I love is how as a mermaid, they would bless the souls of the dead.

Content Warning: slavery, enslavement, violence, death

The ending is so abrupt and I’m not sure if this is a standalone but I would like to see Simi’s story continue especially with that ending.

Why you should read it:

*Little Mermaid story with West African mythology mixed in
*Simi is a strong and a kind main character, I love her role as a Mama Wata
*emotional story

Why you might not want to read it:

*Abrupt ending that feels like this could be a series? But not sure…

My Thoughts:

I adored Simi who was just doing her job as a Mama Wata and then breaking the rules because she wanted to save someone who was still alive. But I love her grace and wanting to do good even when it was challenging for her on sea legs or confronting Gods that were more powerful than her. My only issue is the ending which felt rushed or open ended – not sure if this is a standalone but it would be nice if it was a series. Other than that, I enjoyed this story a lot.
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The premise sounded so interesting, and the cover is beautiful, that I was excited to read this. Sadly, it didn't live up to my expectations. I did enjoy the addition of West African mythology and the strong female lead. I also liked the main characters living in the sea, a unique twist. However, the ending was a bit abrupt. Perhaps a sequel is in the works. Some parts also felt repetitive and predictable. I had high expectations, but it just didn't meet them.
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Rating: 3.5 stars

One thing I enjoy about reading books like this one based on mythology or even historical events are that the author’s note is detailed. This author in particular told us the setting of the story and where it correlates with history, although this is fantasy. Because of that, she gives us more information on the mythology she is using as well. The author’s note really helped me put everything together and honestly made for a better read.

The author does have content warnings for this book so I will put them there: violence, enslavement, death, and suicide.

The book is told from one point-of-view and it comes from Simidele aka Simi. She is a Mami Wata or mermaid and helps the souls who die at sea pass on. I thought this was very interesting and liked how the first two chapters depicted her job and the feelings towards it. Simi also has flashbacks throughout the book as she tries to find out who she was before her transformation into what she is now. The flashbacks help to piece together her life and give us first hand knowledge as well. I always enjoy flashbacks or a past timeline and I thought it was done well.

If you are looking for a protagonist who is determined, caring, and strong, you will find all of these qualities in Simi. I could understand her choices, especially when it came to Kola.

The author does a fantastic job of creating a magical world and weaving in the mythology that had me intrigued from the beginning. I’m always down to learn more about other mythology I haven’t heard of before and this was no exception.

I only had a couple issues with the book and these may be solely based on my tastes. I wasn’t a big fan of the writing style and it did cause me to get through this one at a slower pace than usual. The writing can be quite lyrical and this is usually a hit or miss for me. I don’t think it takes away from the story in anyway because I did like the plot and characters. My other issue was the ending. If this is a standalone, as I have not seen anything otherwise, the ending is very open and it’s something I don’t like. It could be turned into a duology or series but I guess only time will tell on that one.

Overall, I like this one and thought it was a good debut.
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Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Who wouldn't love a story about a black mermaid?  Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen is an amazing #ownvoices YA fantasy inspired by West African myths and history.  The story revolves around Simi, a Mami Wata or mermaid, who collects the souls of people who die at sea.  One day, she rescues a boy from dying, which sets into motion a chain of events that leads her to question everything she knows.  Will she be able to brave the dangerous creatures in her journey?  And will she rescue herself and the rest of her world from a vengeful god?  

Here is a magical, beautiful excerpt from Chapter 1:

"I turn in the water, a shiver of skin and coils, of hair and scales that flash like buried treasure. Embracing the current, I let trails of seaweed run through my hands, feel the wisps of memories fade away. I pause for a moment as the shoal once again spirals around me, glittering yellow with delicate stripes of pink, letting the beauty of the fish soothe me.
Driving down, I head farther away from the ship. I know I'll need to go back, but for now I close my eyes against the velvet slip of the water, its coolness sliding along my skin. This part of the sea is darker, and I welcome being cloaked in an enfolding gloom."

As you can see in the excerpt above, the prose of this book is beautiful.  Each line evokes enchanting images of mermaid lore and the sea.  While I was reading this, I felt like I was being transported into another world, and I didn't want to leave.  One highlight of this book is how original the fantasy world is, and I love how the author incorporated the Yoruba language, as well as West African history and myths, into the story.

Overall, Skin of the Sea is a wonderful #ownvoices YA fantasy that will appeal to fans of Namina Forna's The Gilded Ones and Ayana Gray's Beasts of Prey.  If you love Little Mermaid, but always wondered what she would be like she were black, then this is the story for you.  If you're intrigued by the excerpt above, or if you're a fan of YA fantasy in general, you won't regret checking out this book when it comes out in November!
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From the moment I read the summary of this book, I was so intrigued. I haven’t read too many books about mermaids, and I thought the West African mythology intertwined with Western perceptions of them was really interesting. Full of magic, Skin of the Sea explores a world of gods and mermaids from West African mythology.

Simidele is a Mami Wata, a mermaid tasked with escorting the souls of the Africans who die at sea after being taken from their homelands to be enslaved. One day, she saves a boy who’s thrown overboard, Kola, unexpectedly breaking a sacred decree. Now she must seek forgiveness from the Supreme Creator, but first, she has to find the way to summon him.

The writing was gorgeous; Bowen writes with a poetic tone, seamlessly setting the scene of fifteenth-century Africa and explaining the mythology. Although Western history often only focuses on this time period as a time of slavery, she navigates the weight of this dark time period while also focusing on the rich culture and the people themselves. We learn more about Kola and his family throughout the story, which helps Simi remember her life as a human and the love that existed in her life.

This is a standalone, and I liked the pacing. It was a quick read for me; a lot happens throughout the story but I never thought it dragged at any point. Simi’s character arc was also well done. Over the course of the story, she has to reconcile remembering her past while also accepting her role as a Mami Wata. It was interesting following her navigate this while also getting closer to Kola and the other characters.

Skin of the Sea was a solid debut. I think many people will enjoy the lyrical prose and the exploration of West African mythology. If you’re looking for a fantasy standalone about mermaids and inspired by West African lore, you should check out Skin of the Sea!
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African mermaids! Who can say no to that??? Also, one of the podcasts I listen to happened to be doing orisha stories and it was perfect timing; I got the traditional fable of the gods and then the new twist here. This story was fairly fast paced and didn’t bog the reader down with more info that we needed, which was something I was a bit worried about. While I enjoyed the mostly fast pace of it all, I did feel that the romance could have been done a bit better; I can’t decide if I thought it was too fast or not fast enough.
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This was such a beautiful world and the pacing of the story really drew me in. Definitelly enjoyed reading this one and can't wait to add this to my classroom fantasy section!
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An excellent set of prose inspired by Yoruba mythology which is sure to keep readers engaged and thrilled!
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This is a beautiful, lush book that will take you in with her poetic descriptions.  While it may appear to have a Little Mermaid-esque plot line, the characters are taken along a complex quest that involves much higher stakes than any Disney movie. This book has the distinct feel of folklore/mythos building.
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Skin of the Sea is an immersive fantasy that will definitely appeal to upper readers who are fans of the genre. Bowen really delved into the West African folklore and mythos for this novel and has created a world that is truly fantastical and a refreshing break from the usual European-based mythos. My reason for not giving it 5 stars is that the characterization wasn't as deep as it could have been. Simi's feelings and interior felt mostly surface-level and at times the insertion of her backstory felt more like information to know than something she really reflected upon. The romance was also a bit insta-lovish, and I would have liked more significant moments between Simi and Koffi that would've developed their connection besides the brief touches and short conversations. All in all, this is a strong debut and I'm glad something like it finally exists in the book world.
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This was, to put it shortly, astounding. I literally am in awe at how mystical this felt. It is full of black girl magic, of empowerment, overcoming struggles... and it is quite literally a masterpiece. I laughed, I outraged... and that COVER! This is a must pick-up.
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