• The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea

  • By: Maggie Tokuda-Hall
  • Narrated by: Kate Rudd
  • Length: 9 hrs and 34 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (293 ratings)

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The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea  By  cover art

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea

By: Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Narrated by: Kate Rudd
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Publisher's Summary

In a world divided by colonialism and threaded with magic, a desperate orphan turned pirate and a rebellious imperial lady find a connection on the high seas.

Aboard the pirate ship Dove, Flora the girl takes on the identity of Florian the man to earn the respect and protection of the crew. For Flora, former starving urchin, the brutal life of a pirate is about survival: don't trust, don't stick out, and don't feel. But on this voyage, Flora is drawn to the Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, who is headed to an arranged marriage she dreads. Flora doesn't expect to be taken under Evelyn's wing, and Evelyn doesn't expect to find such a deep bond with the pirate Florian. Neither expects to fall in love.

Soon the unlikely pair set in motion a wild escape that will free a captured mermaid (coveted for her blood) and involve the mysterious Pirate Supreme, an opportunistic witch, double agents, and the all-encompassing Sea herself.

Deftly entwining swashbuckling action and quiet magic, Maggie Tokuda-Hall's inventive debut novel conjures a diverse cast of characters seeking mastery over their fates while searching for answers to big questions about identity, power, and love.

©2020 Maggie Tokuda-Hall, original book published by Walker Books US, a division of Candlewick Press. (P)2020 Brilliance Publishing, Inc., all rights reserved.

Critic Reviews

"Tokuda-Hall infuses this adventure with fantastical word play and [Kate] Rudd is the perfect match as the storyteller. The story is almost melodic in nature and that rings true with Rudd’s sing-song tone, varied character voicing, and matched pacing." Booklist

"Narrator Kate Rudd creates unique voices for mysterious mermaids, powerful witches, and evil pirates in this fantasy adventure.… Rudd imbues her narration with a creepy menace when voicing the villains and brings the courage--and doubts--of both heroines to life. Her lilting voice is rich with the magic of stories and the rhythm of the sea. This audiobook will please listeners looking for a queer love story that celebrates female power and the diversity of gender expression." AudioFile Magazine 

Featured Article: Go on a Swashbuckling Adventure with These Pirate Audiobooks and Podcasts


From classic sagas of buccaneers commanding the seas to fantasy novels featuring high-tech spacefarers, there's something about pirates that gets our hearts pumping and imaginations soaring! If you love a good adventure story, then you'll want to be sure to check out this list of the best audiobooks and podcasts with pirates, featuring both fiction and nonfiction. Whether you're a seadog or scallywag, a kid or grown up, find your next great pirate listen here.

What listeners say about The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea

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Beautifully written

This was such a wonderful story and a great escape from reality for me . Even though I
listened on audible but I want to purchase the book as well.

4 people found this helpful

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An enticing world

The queer characters and captivating cover are what originally pushed me into grabbing this book. Overall I quite enjoyed the story; it has a very unique look at some aspects of fantasy that I hadn't found before. Their portrayal of mermaids in particular I enjoyed.

The voice actress does a really great job. I feel as though some of the dramatic moments aren't built up quite properly, and can often leave you feeling unsatisfied in how they are resolved. The character interactions are nice, and all-in-all I liked the story and would be interested in seeing more from Maggie.

3 people found this helpful

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The Beauty and Hope Needed in 2020

As a queer genderqueer person who loves swashbuckling adventures and is could always use more hope and alternate visions for the world I cannot recommend this book enough.

2 people found this helpful

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Coming of age and Heartwarming Story

I throughly enjoyed this story! Love the diversity of characters and the representation for the LGBTQ+ community as well as the struggles and acceptance of gender identity. Story progressed quickly and seemed slightly rushed at times but overall was very enjoyable. If and when the next book is published I will for sure be picking up a copy. Definitely recommended

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10 out of 10. Highly recommend

Diverse queer characters, pirates, witches, and mermaids!! And beautifully written!! I finished this story in a day and was left immediately in need of a sequel which takes place in this world.

1 person found this helpful

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Queer Joy is the Subversion

Somebody please throw this book at V.E. Schwab and tell her to take some notes on queer, specifically genderfluid/non-binary representation. After trodding through the first two books of the desert that is the Shades of Magic series, this was like coming upon an oasis for my queer, Indigenous self. And yeah, I'm gonna directly compare Schwab's Lila to Tokuda-Hall's Flora/Florian, so strap in for some education on queer rep from your friendly neighborhood PoC drag king.

But before that, I'ma get my gush on.

While I'll try to keep things as spoiler-free as possible, there may still be some, so if you're looking forward to sailing into uncharted waters, steer clear. I will say this, though: If you want a story whose representation is diverse in gender, sexuality, race, and background, with a unique fantasy setting in which Imperial Japan (not some fantasy version of England) is the dominant colonial force in the world (and boy does colonialism get held up to the light to be examined in ways I don't often see in books; especially for young people), with a fascinating magic system, and a subversive ending for its queer protagonists, this is the book for you.

Now, all that being said, nobody is without their biases. Full disclosure, here are some things that likely stacked the odds in my favor of liking this book:

I'm a big 'ol gay, so the abundance of queer characters in this book was a balm to my queer little soul. I've been fascinated by mermaids since I was five to the point where I may have purchased a silicone mermaid tail as a graduation gift to myself upon completing grad school. I am biracial, so seeing characters with different racial backgrounds portrayed well is such a relief.

Because this review is largely gonna be a love-fest, I'd like to preface this with some quick notes about things I wasn't as thrilled about with the book.

1. Stop giving multiracial characters pale eyes. Yes, I know you wanna have the heritage come out in the phenotype, but it's always the eyes (The Grishaverse/Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom, The Beautiful, Shades of Magic, etc.), and mine about rolled into the back of my head at the description of one of the main protagonists specifically because of this. Knock it off, y'all. Our other protagonist who is a BIPOC but not multi-racial was allowed to have brown eyes, but they were made special by a 'gold fleck' which was an annoyance. FFS JUST LET BIPOC CHARACTERS HAVE BROWN EYES. And no, being a BIPOC author doesn't let you off the hook for this.

2. I wish that we had gone into greater detail about some of the characters' backgrounds and the world as a whole. It sounds like there's going to be a sequel, though, so that's encouraging. This is a world and a cast that has you begging to learn more, and it was a little disappointing that we didn't get it. That being said, I can only imagine how thick this book would be if my gay little heart had gotten its wish, but it sounds like an upcoming sequel may help sate my thirst.

3. Having Evelyn fit the, 'noble who doesn't like/isn't good at noble things,' / 'beautiful but socially awkward/clumsy to give her a character flaw,' trope. I understand the author wants to show us immediately that Evelyn is an exception to other Imperials like her, but why do it like this? I feel there are other ways you could convey her down-to-earth ideals. It's not to say the trope is ineffective in this story with this character, but I've read it a lot in other books and it would have been interesting to see a different angle.

And honestly, that's about it for things I didn't like about the book.

I told you, this is a love fest and my gay little heart was so full with this story.

The things I loved about this story:

1. The way it deals with colonialism. As an Indigenous person, it's difficult to read most fantasy without giving some serious side-eye to all the Special European Characters venturing into Strange New Lands to become Very Important (A Song of Ice and Fire, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Kushiel's Universe trilogies (especially the Naamah trilogy), etc.). I like that it not only shows perspectives of the colonists and the colonized, but those who were colonized and desperate to please the very people who deprived them of their autonomy and power.

We see a character who serves an Imperial operative and is deluded enough to believe they will eventually be treated as an equal and possibly a successor, even though there is no precedent stated for such a thing happening. Everyone around this character knows they're just being exploited (even the operative they serve who is Imperial and acknowledged to be the best at their job is subject to exploitation and lack of recognition from the Empire they serve because of their gender), but they want so badly to buy into this colonist dream because if they don't, they're going to have to face a truly horrifying reality about the state of the world they are just plainly unwilling or unable to look at. They ignore the evidence all around them, discard eyewitness accounts to Imperial atrocities, and buy entirely into the stories of the people in power. To them, power is the only truth and they will do anything to ally themselves with it. As someone whose communities are subjected to genocide, oppression, and colonization, it's a chilling thing to read because this impulse is so regrettably real.

A touch I loved that this author included was non-Imperial people taking on names to reflect those in power and try to better 'fit in,' much the same way non-European people take on European names to make things 'easier' for those who are their colonizers and just grease the wheels of social interactions.

2. No chosen ones. I cannot stand the chosen one narratives. It's lazy to have your character be special and important just 'cuz. Show us your character becoming better, working hard, and earning their place and power in the world. This is one of the big reasons why Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom is a more satisfying read than the original Grishaverse trilogy, for example. It’s why the Priory of the Orange Tree started out so promising, but then ended so disappointingly. I am tired of books that use special bloodlines as the mechanism for characters’ special powers, skills and abilities. In this story, we see both Flora/Florian and Evelyn strive, struggle, and work to gain power, safety, and knowledge. The things that happen to them in the story are a result of their own actions and efforts.

While Flora/Florian is described as having potential for magic, the way that things work in this story it seems like anyone could perform it if they had the appropriate training and beliefs.

Evelyn is a noblewoman, but her title and rank don't grant her any special privileges or powers in this story; quite the reverse if anything.

Everyone whose story is worth reading here has had to earn everything they have through blood, sweat, and tears. And those who haven't had to, who have just walked through the world relying on the inherent privileges afforded to them courtesy of the high spaces in society they occupy but did not earn, are shown for exactly what they are. I can't tell you how cathartic and refreshing it is to see.

3. Not equating the features of BIPOC characters to food. Or fucking dirt, for that matter. I don’t care how much people like to play it up, it’s not a compliment to be compared to dirt, no matter how freshly tilled it may be. I cannot tell you how galling it is to hear again and again how our eyes/skin/hair are like chocolate, coffee, tea, molasses, etc. Do you describe your white characters in the same way? Because there are plenty of luxurious/delicious/extravagant delicacies you could equate to how white people look. But 'with her pale skin and blue eyes, she reminded me of a reeking hunk of good Roquefort cheese; the pungent, creamy whiteness of cultured goat's milk highlighted with biting veins of azure mold,' doesn't quite have the same ring as comparing those features to ivory, alabaster, sapphires, etc. does it?

Furthermore, there's a history of colonial exploitation visited upon the non-European people who are involved in the harvest of materials that go into making chocolate, tea, coffee, molasses, etc. that are then exported to European nations/lands that Europeans have colonized. To say nothing of the fact that the equation of non-European people to items that are typically consumed, while white characters are compared to gemstones, precious minerals, and natural phenomena is definitely a choice. I'm glad it's one this author did not make.

4. The magic system. I don’t want to spoil too much here, but the way they do spell craft in the story is so much more interesting than characters just waving their hands around and reciting ‘Tyger, Tyger,’ and concentrating real hard to make the world change for them. We see Flora/Florian putting in the work, having to change their point of view and not immediately be perfect or even overly powerful. What they are is clever. They don’t just mysteriously get the power to do whatever they want. They actually have a unique but limited skill set and have to do a lot of lateral thinking about how to use it to their benefit. I loved it.

5. The representation. This is one of the most diverse casts in terms of gender expression and identity, sexual orientation, and race I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Not only our both our protagonists queer, but so are the majority of the primary cast. Flora/Florian in particular is incredible non-binary/genderfluid representation (and they’re also not the only NB person in this story!)

First of all, Flora/Florian is not just a thin, white, androgynous AFAB person. Secondly, they manage to be non-binary without being misogynist. What a concept, right? Thirdly, the frank and honest discussion of the differences, positives, negatives, and neutrals about living in these different identities on the gender spectrum is so refreshing.

When I was getting ready to read the Shades of Magic series, I kept hearing about what fantastic representation Lila was and how exciting it was to have a non-binary character be in the position of protagonist. What I found was a poorly written stereotype absolutely incandescent with misogyny.

It is painful to me that Lila is more likely than Flora/Florian to be a character on peoples’ bookshelves as possibly their only example of literary non-binary representation.

If you have read the Shades of Magic series, or just long for some good queer rep, please read this book. It’s queer representation as a whole and its non-binary/genderfluid representation in particular is honest, accurate, and compelling.

6. The Sea and the mermaids. Again, I don’t want to spoil too much here, but the whole idea of what the mermaids are, how they work, why they were created, and why the Imperials have such a vested interest in getting rid of them is brilliant. In particular, the reason the Imperials want them wiped out is such an incredible allegory for what colonial powers do to those they colonize. As someone whose family was subjected to the genocidal agendas of residential schools, it hits extremely close to home.

7. The subversive ending. If you’ve read the book, maybe you’re scoffing a little at that.

Do yourself a favor and look up the Hays Code or the The Criminal Amendment Act of 1885. Until recently, queer characters, when they were portrayed in media, had to be presented in such a way that you could not be seen as ‘endorsing’ homosexuality. We have the Bury Your Gays trope for a specific, systemic reason that was mandated in countries like the United States and the UK. If you broke those laws, you could wind up in jail, have your work destroyed, be ostracized, or worse.

Having a tragic end for queer characters is a cliche.

Queer joy is the subversion, and I am glad that this book recognizes that fact.

I loved this book. I am hungry for the rest of this author’s work and I cannot wait for them to bring us back to this world.

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Okay, I liked it!

I wasn't sure about this one at first, but it grew on me. It helped that there were mermaids who are as vicious and as helpless as we all believe them to be, a non-binary character and justice. Justice ALWAYS makes a story better.

4 stars

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Great ideas, poor execution

I really wanted to like this book but struggled through the whole thing, almost turning it off many times. The characters lacked development and so did the plot and world-build. I truly was excited about the descriptions of the characters at the start but was disappointed by not receiving much about who they were, what their wants and goals were, and why they made decisions. I also cannot understand why this book didn’t provide more action for a pirate book! It was quite a slow and boring pace. The romance was lackluster, we didn’t receive much in terms of communication between them so there was no deep yearning on my part to see them together at the end.

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pirate love story

a delightfully bloody and beautiful love story of the sea. Flora/Florian are a rivetting protagonist whose internal journey is as powerful as the sea.

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A good book overall!

Although the book is a little too gritty and dark at some points, the book is very satisfying to get though. The ending shook me... but all is well!

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  • Rachel H
  • 09-29-21

Fantastic refreshing read

A moving and gripping story with both binary and non-binary characters. a very well written book

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  • Rebecca P.
  • 01-28-21

Enchanting, Exciting, Enthralling

I bought this having seen the author (Maggie Tokuda-Hall) speak on a webinar about the book and the reason she wrote it. It sounded like the perfect fantasy for me - pirates, mermaids, queer characters.

It didn't disappoint!

When I first started listening to the book I thought it might take me a little while to get into, but I was wrong - I was hooked very quickly. I absolutely loved the two protagonists (Flora/Florian and Evelyn), but what the author did really well was make each character interesting - leaving me wanting to know more about them all.

The world-building was excellent - the descriptions of the ship and the sea itself was beautifully done. I'm so happy to hear there is a sequel and will definitely be getting it.

In regards to the narrator - her voice sounded a little robotic to me at first but I quickly got used to it and actually ended up really enjoyed her narration.

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  • Abbey
  • 05-13-21

absolutely amazing

well developed characters, a riveting plot and beautiful queer representation i couldn't stop listening to this book!!! a must read!!

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-15-20

Solid listening, wordy reading

As soon as I started this book I knew it wouldn’t be a book I would pick up and read. It’s descriptive with rather flowery vocabulary which sometimes makes you feel the author has picked up a thesaurus to find a ‘better word.’ That being said, it was a cracker of a book to listen to. It was interesting, with likeable characters and a solid plot. I enjoyed the world in which this book was set and the way the author approached gender in the story was exceptionally done, I thought. The ending left a bit to be desired but no real complaints.