I wish Sea Witch by Sarah Henning wasn’t advertised as a prequel retelling of The Little Mermaid. Instead, I wish it was just a historical fantasy about mermaids. Saying it is a retelling brings a lot of expectations, many that I don’t think are met within the story.
Four years ago, Evie’s best friend drowned. Ever since, she’s been an outcast. But then a girl who bears an uncanny resemblance to Anna appears on the beach, and Evie is convinced Anna has survived. But the girl has secrets, and Evie soon finds herself wrapped up in an impossible task that will require everything—her magic, her ocean, and her love.
Sea Witch is a much slower paced, historically rich story about friendships than a rich, dark backstory to the famous Disney villain. This book is very non-Disney, which is what I think makes it so compelling. Instead, Sea Witch hearkens back to the original fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen.
The world-building is what truly makes this story memorable. The historical details and descriptions of the small seacoast kingdom are absolutely gorgeous, and the concept of mermaids and magic is intriguing. The pacing of the story, however, is slow. It centers around three friends, one who died several years earlier. There are flashback scenes exploring how she died that tie closely with the present time of the story. The magic is limited, though. It’s definitely there, but it doesn’t come into play until much later in the story.
The characters are good too. I like Evie, the narrator, a lot. Her thoughts and feelings were complicated and helped drive the story forward. She is bold and full of determination to help others, and I like that it shows that sometimes her good intentions do have consequences. (After all, magic does come with a price!) And I love that this book focuses heavily on friendship above romance. Both Nik and Iker, Evie’s friends, are well rounded characters and full of surprises as well.
In general, this book was full of surprises. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but the plot twists blew me away. I didn’t expect it to turn dark so fast, but I am glad that it didn’t go in the direction I was expecting either! It made for a refreshing story.
Sea Witch is a different kind of story for a different kind of audience. Not everyone will love this book, but if you take it as it is, you might enjoy it. While I wish it wasn’t a retelling and that the last chapter didn’t exist, I think Sarah Henning did a good job giving The Little Mermaid a fresh idea. I like that the sea witch didn’t become who she was because of a cliche reason, like scorned love. Instead, I would argue that according to this book the sea witch isn’t a villain at all.