I’m having a nice, relaxing weekend at home (seeing the new Black Panther tonight too!!), so I figured I’d do another tag! I found this one over at Becky @ Becky’s Book Blog, and I haven’t been able to find the original creator, so if you know who it is, please let me know so I can credit them.
At this point, all of these authors—Amie Kaufman, Becky Chambers, Maggie Tokuda-Hall, and Rainbow Rowell—are ones that I immediately preorder from (or at least put on hold at the library) if they’re coming out with anything new. (anybody else excited for Isles of the Gods???)
3 FAVORITE GENRES
Anyone who’s followed this blog for a while knows that I’m a complete sci-fi fan to the bone. Absolute favorite genre!! After that, I’d say fantasy and magical realism; fantasy was my favorite genre before I got really into sci-fi, but I still love it. I’ve gotten into magical realism more recently, but I’ve read some incredibly memorable books in the genre.
2 PLACES YOU READ
During the day, I tend to read on the couch, and at night, I love to read while cozy in bed.
1 BOOK YOU PROMISE TO READ SOON
I’ve been meaning to read Viciousfor a while after loving the Shades of Magic trilogy, and I just downloaded it on my Kindle, so I’ll be reading this as soon as I can!
After finishing and loving The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea, Squad immediately came on my radar—with the details of the Mermaid sequel being hazy at best, I needed more of Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s writing in my life. I found it in Squad, a punchy and timely graphic novel with bright colors and inner darkness.
In her junior year, Becca moves to a new high school, thinking that she’ll have to settle with not fitting in. To her surprise, she’s taken under the wings of the three most popular girls in school, and soon, she is swept up into a world of new clothes and rowdy parties. But these three girls have a secret—they’re werewolves, and their prey are the predatory boys they find at their parties. But as the police investigate their most recent killing, Becca must decide if she still wants to be a part of their werewolf Squad.
With its juxtaposition of a bright color palette and the darkness of werewolves out for blood, Squad is the perfect graphic novel for this day and age, and presents a timely theme—when does justice become purely revenge?
I’ve been a fan of Tokuda-Hall’s since The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea, but I hadn’t seen anything of Lisa Sterle’s before this. Now, I can definitively say that they make a fantastic graphic novel team! The combination of Tokuda-Hall’s dark and witty writing and Sterle’s bright colors and distinctive faces (both human and wolf) meshed so well together, making the storytelling all the more cohesive. Sterle’s art style is one that I really liked, and it’s the perfect style for this story. I’d like to see something else from this team—their respective writing and art styles were perfect for the aesthetic of Squad!
Right off the bat, I loved the concept of this novel and the implications it had. The idea of a clique of werewolves preying on rapists at parties already had my attention, and this part was executed so well! But beyond this, Squad asks us the question that’s become so prevalent with #MeToo and the growing movement to hold rapists accountable: when does getting back at the perpetrator become pure revenge and not accountability? Seeing all of this through the eyes of Becca—the newest in what we find out is a long line of werewolves—is a perfect way to show these themes from the perspective of a newcomer.
Becca’s perspective also serves as a wonderful way to show how dangerous trying to fit in can be. Over the course of Squad, a rift begins to form between these four girls, especially with Arianna, who has begun to break all the rules set by their previous “alpha,” and Amanda, who seems to be the only one willing to stick to their original plans. All of this threatens to tear Becca apart, even when her own mother pushes her to continue climbing the social ladder. It presents a great dilemma for Becca—is it worth it to go against what she feels is right for a chance at power?
However, there were a few things that I didn’t quite like about Squad. First off, the ending felt very abrupt and unresolved. It went from point A to point B with no real correlation, and it simply…ended. From reading two of her works now, I’d say that endings aren’t Tokuda-Hall’s strong suit; I didn’t mind the ending of The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea as much as I did this one (although my friends in book club would probably say otherwise lol), but it still felt rushed. Squad’s ending was still sweet, but it lacked a cohesive resolution.
In addition, while I loved the idea of a sapphic werewolf romance, the relationship between Becca and Marley was very rushed. Like the ending, I loved what little I saw of it (especially that last scene!), but it felt crammed into the last third of the story and bordered on insta-love. Plus, I have mixed feelings about Becca being paired with Marley; it made sense in concept, since they were both caught up in the conflict of the rest of the squad, but given some of the offhand comments that Marley makes about Becca in the beginning, it didn’t make sense that Becca would immediately tolerate all that and fall in love. Maybe if we’d seen if Marley had a change of heart or at least apologized about some of those comments, it might have made sense. But the romance ended up being sweet, but sloppily done. Almost an afterthought.
All in all, a biting (no pun intended) and important tale of the line between accountability and revenge. 4.25 stars!
Squad is a standalone, but Maggie Tokuda-Hall is also the author of The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea. Lisa Sterle is also the illustrator of Witchblood and the creator of the Modern Witch Tarot Deck.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday, and the last Book Review Tuesday of 2021! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!
So first off, I owe a huge thank you to Phoenix @ Books With Wings for introducing me to this book (and sharing that great interview with Maggie Tokuda Hall!), because otherwise, I’m not sure if I would’ve heard of it! And man, I am SO glad that I picked this book up last week – such a beautiful queer story full of characters with heart and tender romance.
After being plucked off the streets by a ruthless pirate captain, Flora disguises herself as a boy, Florian, to pass amongst the crew of the pirate ship Dove. Life aboard the Dove has hardened her, but when the captain strikes a deal to transport a group of Imperials to the floating islands, she meets Evelyn, who is set to be married to a man she doesn’t even know. The two bond in secret, and they soon fall in love, but when the crew captures a mermaid, the Dove invokes the wrath of the Pirate Supreme and the Sea itself. Flora and Evelyn must escape the ship – or face the curse of the unforgiving Sea.
Pirate fantasy is one of my favorite types of fantasy, but in the YA department, most of the ones I’ve found have been bitter disappointments. But The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea was exactly the opposite – a fantasy tale that was all at once brutal and beautiful that filled my heart up with tender joy.
For me, the characters were the part that shone the most in this novel. Flora and Evelyn were both incredible protagonists – multi-layered, and with distinct personalities that riffed adorably well off each other. I loved their romance, and their bonding over books and the captured mermaid was so sweet. Besides them, Rake had to be my favorite character – I adored his POVs! It’s clear that he’d been through so much before and during the novel, but all he wanted was to make sure that Flora and Evelyn broke free of the cruel life aboard the Dove. He got his moment in the spotlight too, and I loved seeing him come into his own near the end of the novel. (He reminded me a bit of Rabbi Milligan from Fargo, too… [aggressively goes through a box of tissues])
Beyond the protagonists, I loved how complex the relationships between all of the characters; Maggie Tokuda-Hall didn’t shy away from making them more than black and white, and I felt like it was a very realistic situation for Flora, in particular, having to eke out a living on the Dove. Much of the crew (minus Rake and Alfie) were deplorable people, but for Alfie in particular, he’s their brother; even though Alfie’s a deeply flawed person, Flora still had a sense of responsibility for him.
The queer rep in The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea also made me so happy! Over the course of the book, Flora realizes that they’re genderfluid, and while I can’t speak to how accurate or inaccurate the rep is (as a cis person), it was certainly a beautiful journey of identity and a supremely well written piece of character development. It’s also implied that Evelyn is bi/pan/queer (though her label is never specified), and she loves Flora no matter how they presented. The infamous and all-powerful Pirate Supreme, though we didn’t get to see as much of them, also used they/them pronouns, which was pretty cool! I love a good casually queer fantasy story, and this novel 100% delivered.
And speaking of queerness in fantasy, I loved all of the different fairytales woven into the Witch’s part of the story; they were all fascinating in their own right, but it was amazing to see casual queer rep in all of the tales that the Witch told to Flora. The Witch as a character (Xenobia) was more of a vehicle for Flora’s development than anything, but that part of the story was still critical for Flora.
The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea also served as a good commentary on imperialism; although this all occurs in a fantasy world, it’s focused primarily on Japanese imperialism, which is a perspective I don’t often see in literature, period. The plotline of the Pirate Supreme and the Sea was the most well-developed of the commentaries; there’s a clear and important message of not encroaching on places that were never yours in the first place, both in the respects of neighboring countries and on nature itself. However, I do wish the world were a little more developed; the worldbuilding was good on the surface, but I wish we’d gotten a little more of the history behind the imperialism and some of the other countries.
However, I’ve seen this in a few reviews and thought it was worth noting – it didn’t quite sit right with me that Flora, who was a Black-coded character, works on a slave ship; given…well, much of world history, really, that doesn’t seem terribly thoughtful. The reviews I’ve seen mention this were from non-Black readers, and I haven’t been able to find any Black reviewer’s thoughts (on Goodreads, at least). They don’t really elaborate the concept that the Dove is a slaver ship beyond the prologue (which I just chalked up to iffy worldbuilding), to a degree where I pretty much forgot that it was a slaver ship in the first place, but it’s still something to keep in mind.
I swallowed this novel almost all at once – it was a little bit slow to start, but once it got going, man, it really got going! After about the 25% mark (I read this on my Kindle), the plot kept me hooked until the very last page. I especially loved the final showdown of the Dove, the Pirate Supreme, and the Sea – the action scenes were incredible, and though parts were hard to read (RAKE 😭😭😭), it was lovely to see the characters get their justice.
But GAAAH, for the most part, THIS BOOK MADE ME SO HAPPY. Finally, I’ve gotten my hands on a pirate fantasy that actually delivers – in anti-imperialism commentary, in queer rep and romance, and in lovable characters and action. 4.5 stars!
The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea is the first in a series; however, no information has been released other than the fact that there will eventually be a sequel. (GIMMEEEEE) Maggie Tokuda-Hall is also the author of the forthcoming YA novel Squad (2021), as well as several picture books.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!