Book Review: Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen

This is honestly one of the most beautiful books out this year. The cover is stunning and is the main reason that I was interested in this book. The plot did interest me too, but this was total cover love.

Skin of the Sea follows Simidele, who is one of the Mami Wata. She’s a mermaid who harvests the souls of black people who die in the ocean thanks to slavers. One day she comes upon a boy who is still alive, so she rescues him. She didn’t know it was against the rules and had to go on a journey with him to make amends for her mistake.

This was a somewhat historical fantasy. I can’t say if it’s technically set in our world, but I believe it’s a fantastical setting that uses 15th-century history. It weaves together West African folklore and gods with something that felt a lot like it was a The Little Mermaid retelling but wasn’t quite. There are trigger warnings in this book for slavery, violence, suicide and death. I wasn’t quite expecting this book to be as dark as it is, but it really worked and made the story more powerful.

My favourite part of this book was the use of folklore. I’ve never heard of most of these gods or creatures before, but now I want to know more. The yumboes are clearly a type of fae, and I’d never thought of West African fae before though I knew they would be a thing. I’d also love to cuddle the abada. They sound so cute. I want to go on and read more about these creatures now because I’m completely fascinated.

Something that came with the territory of folklore and Africa is storytelling. It was a prominent part of this story and featured in a challenge near the end of the book. I really enjoyed it as it helped pass on information without feeling like an infodump. The storytelling within the book had the same sort of rhythm as the tales, and that worked really well.

I was so sure that this book was going to be a favourite, but it wasn’t. I definitely appreciated the characters and the story, but something about the writing just didn’t gel with me. I basically read this entire book – apart from one chapter – in a single night. It was a fast read and isn’t too long, which was a joy. But the writing really made me feel like I was on the outside looking in. Sometimes I found my eyes skimming over the text, and I had to go back to focus as I was less interested in the part I was reading.

This is a debut book though, so I can forgive it any flaws. And I think it probably is a me problem this time as I’d have no problem recommending this book to others. I’ll definitely be getting the second book too.

Skin of the Sea is a magical, lyrical novel that will have you tearing up whilst wanting to dive into a West African story collection. Check it out!

3/5 Stars

Title: Skin of the Sea

Author: Natasha Bowen

Genre: Fantasy

Age Range: Young Adult

Publisher: Penguin

Release Date: 4/11/21


Amazon UK | Waterstones

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