Published by HarperCollins on July 31st 2018
Genres: Fairy Tales & Folklore, Fantasy, Young Adult
Buy on Amazon
The sea is a fickle witch.
She is just as likely to bestow a kiss as to steal the breath from your lips.
I gave myself a bit of a headache trying to rate this book. Parts of it were 2 teacups, other parts 4/4.5, so in the end I’ve settled on this. But I will say one thing: this book is probably not what you are expecting. I hope it can find the right readers.
It’s really a question of how much patience you have. And how easily you can sit through maritime chapters without falling asleep. It’s a very slowly-paced book, especially during the first two thirds of the story. Any exciting witchy The Little Mermaid goodness you might be expecting happens in the later chapters, and even then it’s pretty subdued.
Though, in many ways, Sea Witch is much smarter than I expected for a YA The Little Mermaid retelling. The story is set in 19th Century Denmark and is woven with hundreds of years of Danish history. The Danes, especially under King Christian IV, put many “witches” to death in the 16th and 17th centuries. Henning combines this real fear of witches on land with the story of the sea witch we all know from the Andersen tale (and the Disney remake).
There are many interesting aspects of what the author has done here. I love that so much of it is rooted in history; I love that I googled Øresund Kingdoms and discovered that the Øresund strait is a real thing. I love that it mentioned the infamous “witch” – Maren Spliid.
The story is about three unlikely childhood friends – Nik (the prince), Anna (now deceased) and Evie (the half-Italian fisherman’s daughter). In the present of the story, Nik’s near-drowning results in him being saved by a mysterious girl who looks like Anna. She is the beautiful Annemette and Evie quickly befriends her, feeling drawn towards this stranger who looks so like her friend.
Slowly drawn friendship and romantic dynamics lead toward magical secrets. Annemette is clearly not all she appears to be, but the depths of what she’s hiding are indeed dark and full of terrors. This is all set to an atmospheric backdrop of salty air and sea breezes. Henning does a great job of infusing everything with a sea-like essence.
Also, Nik is a delightful little sweetie. Rarely are male characters allowed to be such starry-eyed romantics and it was adorable, yet not unrealistic.
Unfortunately, though, it really is slow. I actually wonder if I would have made it through if I hadn’t committed to an arc, and I foresee many DNFs on the horizon. It’s not a thrills and romance kind of book – it’s a gentle wander through history, class divides and the unwarranted fear of witches. The occasional third person chapters also slow down the book. I think Sea Witch will work really well for the right sort of reader, but I think the majority of readers will pick this up expecting something it doesn’t deliver.