The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea Book Poster Image
Epic romantic fantasy adventure is poetic and violent.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Fantasy meant to entertain.But readers will get a glimpse of what it's like to be nonbinary/gender fluid and genderless. 

Positive Messages

After profound loss, you can be happy again and regain what you lost if you open yourself to a different way of having it. Just because something has never been done doesn't mean it can't be done. Lots of positive messages about people whose gender is nonbinary and/or fluid. Important and powerful characters identify as not having a gender, or both genders feel equally right to them.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Flora/Florian, who's Black, is brave and loyal. She does what she must to survive, works hard to make a better life possible for herself. She's held back by her troubled brother and sometimes resents him, but never wants them to be separated. Evelyn, who comes from a fantasy version of Japan, is naive, kind, smart, a free spirit. Other characters range from cruel villains to heroes. Variety of skin colors and gender identities; people notice but it doesn't define who or what someone is.


Real-world violence includes fights with punching, kicking, knives, swords, guns. Throats are slit. Waterboarding (called "dry drowning") is described in detail. A brutal lashing. Implied rape in overheard screams. A finger is cut off in punishment. People are imprisoned to be sold into slavery, including mention of sexual slavery. A mass execution by firing squad is heard. A gunshot to the head mentions blood spray. Blood is mentioned and briefly described frequently, and pain is described in detail. A threat of death by a fictional poison with the painful, gross effects described; mention that the pain first takes effect "down there." Fantasy violence involves a fantasy creature that's confined, smacked hard enough to draw blood, drinks human blood. People in turn drink the blood of its kind, which is a commodity.


A few sensual but nongraphic kisses and making out between members of the same sex or with a gender-fluid partner. Being both man and woman, and being genderless, are prominent themes. "Bleeding" for the first time mentioned to suggest a girl's age.


"S--t," "ass," "goddamned," "whores," and "piss." Derogatory reference to homosexuality as being "crooked."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A couple of characters are alcoholic; negative effects on themselves and others are described. Mermaid's blood is called the "oblivion drink" and makes people hallucinate and lose memories. A ship's crew is known for drunkenness. A few scenes take place in taverns, and rum is mentioned as part of a ship's stores.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Maggie Tokuda-Hall's The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea is a fantasy adventure that explores the issue of imperialism and involves a romance between a gender-fluid pirate and an imperial teen noblewoman. It has violence and adult themes that make it for teens, not kids. Violence includes slitting throats, a graphic description of waterboarding, implied rape, mention of sexual slavery, cutting off a finger as punishment, a brutal lashing, threats of poisoning, mass execution, and a gunshot to the head, often with descriptions of blood and detailed descriptions of pain. There are a few sensual kisses and light making out without graphic detail or mention of body parts. A couple of characters are alcoholics with negative effects described. People drink mermaid's blood and hallucinate and lose memories. Strong language is rare (including "s--t" and "ass"). Gender identity is a prominent theme, with positive representations of a character who is both genders and another who is genderless.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMelissaHolub June 30, 2020

Excellent read; excellent message

This YA book has some great characters, strong female leads, complexity of ideas and characters, good pacing and writing, and important themes such as abuses of... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

THE MERMAID, THE WITCH, AND THE SEA tells of child orphan Flora and her brother Alfie, who know they won't survive another cold winter on the streets. So they beg their way onto the crew of the Dove, where they know life will be hard, but at least they'll eat. And they're not wrong. To keep herself safe from the worst of the crew members, Flora proves her mettle as a man and becomes Florian. One day the newly boarding passengers include Evelyn, a young noblewoman on her way to an arranged marriage. Florian is assigned to guard Evelyn, and they strike up a friendship that deepens over the course of the long voyage. Little do they imagine how their love will change their fates, or how the help of a mermaid, a witch, and even the sea herself will be needed before they'll be free to live and love to the fullest.

Is it any good?

This debut novel by Maggie Tokuda-Hall is epic, poetic, beautiful, romantic, adventurous, ruthless, dangerous, even murderous. Definitely not for kids. Tokuda-Hall's solid, rhythmic, sometimes lyrical writing lifts The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea beyond a rip-snorting, piratical adventure into a moving story about change, love, loss, recovery, and more. Teens especially will relate to Flora and Evelyn as they navigate all kinds of transitions, both physical and spiritual, from child to adult, from naivete to knowing, from innocent to guilty, from girl to man.

The intriguing, well-paced story keeps the pages turning. So does the colorful cast of characters, both good and bad, as they navigate a rich, vast, and vividly imagined world. Violence and adult themes make it best for high schoolers and up.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea. How much is too much? Do you react differently to reading about violence than you do to watching it in videos, games, or other media?

  • What are Flora/Florian's and Evelyn's character strengths and weaknesses? Are they positive role models? Did you like them?

  • Why is it important to have diverse representation in books and other media? Why is it important to have a broad understanding of all kinds of people?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and LGBTQ stories

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