Last summer, I made the acquaintance of Sarah Henning, who offered me some writing career advice, and in return for her kindness, I reviewed her debut book, Sea Witch. Little did I know that there was a sequel on the horizon, called Sea Witch Rising. I knew even less that I would be offered the chance to read the book before its release. So thank you to Wunderkind for an ARC of Sea Witch Rising!
Fifty years after Sea Witch, a little mermaid named Alia has fallen in love with a human prince, and there is only one way to be with him: make a deal with the sea witch—Evie—in exchange for a pair of legs. Alia’s twin sister, Runa, is determined to get Alia back, because if Alia cannot win the prince’s love, she will become sea foam. But times have changed, and the world is on the brink of World War I. As it turns out, so is the underwater world. Alia’s deal sets off a chain of events that will test Runa’s strength, since both land and sea are on the edge of destruction.
The story balances between Runa and Evie’s perspectives: Runa, as she goes on land to retrieve her sister, and Evie, still lamenting the loss of her old life, and watching the underwater world crumble under the sea king’s addiction to power. It’s a definite good sign when I don’t prefer one perspective over the other. Evie has aged considerably here, but she’s still the same determined and sweet protagonist from the first book. There’s a motherly element to her that was nice to read.
Henning’s addition to The Little Mermaid is that mermaids can also be witches. Runa and Alia can work magic, but they draw that magic from the sea, so it’s not quite as strong when they’re human. In fact, magic is a huge part of this book’s central conflict. Magic has to be balanced between land and sea, and when the balance is tipped, dangers arise. The conflict is not just about whether Alia will be with her prince, but whether the magical balance can be restored—whether the sea king can come back from his addiction to magic power.
And luckily, the bond between Runa and Alia is strong. I’m going on record and say that Alia is the cutest, sweetest character I’ve read in a bit. She is a bit naïve and romantic, but she is also strong and determined. She traded her voice for her legs, so she has to express everything through facial expressions and how Runa interprets her signs. Whether it’s in books or movies, mute characters are such fun to watch, because they always have so much personality.
Although I really, really liked Alia, the book is carried on Runa and Evie’s shoulders, and they do so pretty well. Runa, however, gets more of the action, probably because she is not confined to a cove like Evie. And there is a lot of magic-flinging action here, whether on land or sea.
The atmosphere of the Danish kingdom where this story takes places is done well, too. Although, I do wish there was a little more 1914 flavor. Not that this had to become a purely historical novel, but maybe if there were more 1910s markers besides World War I—perhaps some fashion choices, or if wedding guests were gossiping about a contemporary figure.
But the overarching theme is still the bonds that cross time and space between sisters. As someone who is a sister, those bonds rang true, especially in Runa and Alia’s There is no me without her motto. In fact, when I got done with this book, I texted my sisters, because, like with Alia and Runa, you never know when you might lose each other.
Sea Witch Rising will be released on August 6th wherever books are sold!