Jen reviews The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea, a stand alone Fantasy YA retelling novel by Axie Oh.
|Series: N/A||Genre: Fantasy, Retelling, YA|
|Date of Publishing: Feb 22, 2022||Trigger Warnings: death, violence|
|Page count: 336||Publisher: Feiwel & Friends|
Deadly storms have ravaged Mina’s homeland for generations. Floods sweep away entire villages, while bloody wars are waged over the few remaining resources. Her people believe the Sea God, once their protector, now curses them with death and despair. In an attempt to appease him, each year a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to serve as the Sea God’s bride, in the hopes that one day the “true bride” will be chosen and end the suffering.
Many believe that Shim Cheong, the most beautiful girl in the village—and the beloved of Mina’s older brother Joon—may be the legendary true bride. But on the night Cheong is to be sacrificed, Joon follows Cheong out to sea, even knowing that to interfere is a death sentence. To save her brother, Mina throws herself into the water in Cheong’s stead.
Swept away to the Spirit Realm, a magical city of lesser gods and mythical beasts, Mina seeks out the Sea God, only to find him caught in an enchanted sleep. With the help of a mysterious young man named Shin—as well as a motley crew of demons, gods and spirits—Mina sets out to wake the Sea God and bring an end to the killer storms once and for all.
But she doesn’t have much time: A human cannot live long in the land of the spirits. And there are those who would do anything to keep the Sea God from waking…
“Brightly colored fish swim along the breeze, as if the sky were an ocean. Whales like clouds float lazily overhead.
And in the distance, the dragon slips through the air like a kite freed of the earth.
I’ve never seen anything more beautiful. I’ve never seen anything more terrifying.
The wonders of this city reveal an undeniable truth: I have entered a new world—a world of dragons, of gods with unfathomable powers, of assassins who move unseen through the shadows, where your voice can be transformed into a bird and then stolen, and where no one I love can ever reach me.”
See The Stars by David Usher
The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea first caught my eye with its stunning cover (love the colours and the softness of them), and then I read it was based on a Korean folktale! I was pretty excited about this since I have been searching for a Korean fantasy or folklore retelling, for a while now.
Based on the Korean folktale The Tale of Shim Cheong, about a girl who jumps into the sea as an offering to the Sea God, in exchange for enough rice to give to the temple so her dad will regain his vision.
The original (translated version) was a bit thin but offered a nice building block for this tale.
In our retold version Mina is the star. Mina’s love for her brother Joon, prompts her to follow him to the sea, when he gets it in his head to accompany Shin Cheong – the Sea God’s chosen bride (whom Joon loves dearly). Afraid of the consequences of him being there with Shin Cheong, she takes it upon herself to try a save Joon, from the god’s possible wrath. Obviously, this goes about as well as you’d expect, and Mina ends up being the one who goes overboard.
When Mina awakes in the realm of the Sea God, she finds she is connected by the red thread of fate to the sleeping god. But nothing is ever that simple. Assassins sever the link between them, stealing her voice (which is her soul) trapping it in a magpie, and locking her out of the palace. She has a month to find and regain her soul, and return to the gates of the Lotus house palace if she doesn’t want to become a spirit and lose her chance at marrying the Sea God and saving her people.
There is a fun cast of characters that we meet along the way that like in any good folk-tale, offer help and lessons to our heroine on her journey. Mina was lovely and I really liked the main/supporting characters (especially Hyeri, Shiki, Nari, Shin, and Kirin).
The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea gets a lot of brownie points from me just because of how much I enjoyed the plotting of this tale. I’ve been reading a lot of years, so I wasn’t terribly surprised by any turn, but I was definitely very happy with the chosen paths. I think because a lot of time was spent with the main characters becoming friends, and learning to like and count on one another.
There never seems to be enough friendships in tales for me, and I loved how we had lots of that, and that there wasn’t a single incident of cattiness between the girls in this story.
Also, there were power struggles galore between the gods’ eight houses, trying to shift the landscape for their benefits – which I loved. It also helped to thicken up the story and gave it more room to explore the realm and the culture.
At first, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea didn’t feel all that different from many of the other retellings I have read over the years. I read a lot of fantasy which may be why some of it – the gods, dragons, curses, and fate – felt like pretty standard fare to me.
But as the tale unfolds, the culture becomes more entwined throughout the story, with the spirits (I loved everything about the river of souls) and animals, and also the ancestral family connections/rituals, so that was really nice to see. (I would have liked a bit more food – outside of the offerings, but that’s just me.)
I enjoyed The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea more and more as the story progressed and all these elements came together, building into this nice big reveal and a great ending! Bravo!