SEA WITCH by Sarah Henning is an epic and unique retelling of the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid. I graciously obtained a finished copy from HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books who kindly sent it to me for an honest review.
Spoilers will start after the short summary during the extended review:
Everyone knows what happens in the end. A mermaid, a prince, a true love’s kiss. But before that young siren’s tale, there were three friends. One feared, one royal, and one already dead.
Ever since her best friend, Anna, drowned, Evie has been an outcast in her small fishing town. A freak. A curse. A witch.
A girl with an uncanny resemblance to Anna appears offshore and, though the girl denies it, Evie is convinced that her best friend actually survived. That her own magic wasn’t so powerless after all. And, as the two girls catch the eyes—and hearts—of two charming princes, Evie believes that she might finally have a chance at her own happily ever after.
But her new friend has secrets of her own. She can’t stay in Havnestad, or on two legs, unless Evie finds a way to help her. Now Evie will do anything to save her friend’s humanity, along with her prince’s heart—harnessing the power of her magic, her ocean, and her love until she discovers, too late, the truth of her bargain.
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Why I was interested: Retellings may be my favorite, but it’s the stories of the villians that get me truly excited. SEA WITCH had been on my radar for a while so I was thrilled when HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books reached out to me to review it and SEA WITCH RISING.
Judge a book by it’s cover: Evie is a great, well-rounded character you can’t help but root for. She’s optimistic and loyal to her friends even if she can be very hard on herself. It is fitting that we see her in her full Sea Witch glory where her tentacles are seen as a testament to her triumph.
What to expect: This book is a fantastic retelling with hints of 1860s history and cultural nods. It is filled with amazing twists and you’ll devour it quickly.
Why you should pick this book up: If you adore retellings — especially ones following the “villain” — this is the book for you. It’s unique enough while paying homage to the original Hans Christen Anderson story.
Want more?: There is a sequel, SEA WITCH RISING, that is also out and available now. It does follow Evie but also follows a pair of mermaid twins during WWI. You also may enjoy CORAL by Sara Ella, a Little Mermaid retelling focusing on mental health.
ATTENTION: IF YOU HAVE YET TO READ SEA WITCH do not continue reading. The following contains spoilers for the book.
Retellings hold a special place in my heart. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching retellings by watching Disney Animated movies or maybe it’s because modern retellings relate so well with its audience. Regardless of the reason, SEA WITCH is a top-notch story for my Little Mermaid-loving heart.
I never thought I’d want a retelling following the sea witch — which in my mind, Ursula is the first to appear — but this book was such a breath of fresh air, I’m so glad Henning decided to focus on Evie. Combining the backstory of the “wicked” sea witch with historical fantasy personally calls for all the checks in my book. This 1860s Denmark-set story is filled with cultural nods as well as expectations of the era which makes for plenty of drama.
The thing is, Evie is truly not evil at all. She’s remarkably loyal to her family and friends and even at times optimistic. It’s the views of others that see her as someone “rising from her position” that could be seen as wrong or sly when she is just the Prince’s friend. The kingdom’s view of witches being evil is another misappropriated assumption. Evie uses magic to help bring in enough food from the sea so the residents could survive. While her actions might be seen as questionable, Evie is loyal to a fault.
Ironically, her best friend Anna is much more evil even though society deems her “good” due to her social standing. We see this contrast greatest when Evie is deemed a witch at the climax of the book. However, Anna seeks revenge and kills numerous people including both the King and Evie’s father.
Society is truly the antagonist of this story, as seen the most strongly through Anna/Annamette. Society ridicules Evie for her friendship with the princes, the death of her mother and Anna, and for being smart, independant, and clever. She is everything that a girl should not be in 1860s Denmark and it’s society who tries to cruelly remind her of this.
Her most selfless act of saving the prince and making sure Anna dies — truly dies — a second time by sacrificing herself shows that Evie will continue to fight for what is right even if society judges her for it. Evie may be a witch — and a sea witch at that — but she is not evil. She is a girl who happened to fall in love with her best friend, the prince, and stand against the status quo by being who she is.
I loved SEA WITCH by Sarah Henning for its story, its historical fantasy, and because Evie is part-Italian Strega. I am thankful for HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books for reaching out and asking me to review SEA WITCH and sending me a final copy of SEA WITCH RISING. I look forward to reading more by Henning — and I hope it’s more historical fantasy story retellings.
What did you think of Sarah Henning’s SEA WITCH? I’d love to hear your comments below!
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