Book Review

Review: Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen

To be honest, I was a little apprehensive about embarking on reading a story that felt very Little Mermaid in its opening pages. I’d previously read To Kill a Kingdom, which I enjoyed … but it hadn’t exactly gripped me. But the story told in Skin of the Sea was much more detailed, much more exciting and was just packed with Nigerian and West African folklore that quickly made the story much less of a retelling, and more of a novel in its own right.

Title: Skin of the Sea
Author: Natasha Bowen
Pages: 336
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication Date: 2nd November 2021
Ownership: eARC provided by the publisher

Rating: 4.5 stars

Simidele is one of the Mami Wata, water spirits (like mermaids) that were created to collect souls that have been lost in the sea and to bless them on their journey back to Oludomare, the Supreme Creator. At the time that this novel is set, many Black lives are being lost at sea, as slave traders are tearing communities apart.

Simi legs only reappear when she is back on dry land, and with them her memories of her life before becoming one of the Mami Wata, and she finds herself plagued by these forgotten memories of her humanity.

But one day, when collecting souls, she finds a boy, Adekola, who is still alive. Rather than waiting for him to drown, she drags him back to land. But Simi has now gone against the reason why she was made; instead of collecting souls she has saved one. She must now find a way of reaching Oludomare to beg forgiveness for transgressing, and to protect Kola’s life.

Kola, however, is desperate to return home. He has family to protect not just from the slavers, but from a greater threat that could place more than just his village in danger. Will he trust Simi enough to get her help in protecting his family?

We very quickly move away from ‘aren’t humans interesting, look, one just fell over the side of a ship’ and instead embark on a story that is rich with a clearly explained culture, mythology and folklore, all set against a real period in history – one that shadows the book but doesn’t overpower the story between Simi and Kola.

I wasn’t particularly made up about the romance that builds between Simi and Kola – it feels very ‘first boy I ever met and he’s a cutie’, but the wealth of fun characters, different environments and host of orisa spirits.

I really enjoyed the story, and would give it 4.5 stars overall.

I received an eARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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