Sarah Henning’s Sea Witch is a prequel to Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, detailing how the titular Sea Witch who gave the mermaid her legs came to be. I appreciated how much you could see the influence of the original fairy tale in both the setting (19th century Denmark) and the high stakes (to gain a soul & remain human, the mermaid must receive true love’s kiss or sacrifice someone else in four days or she’ll turn to sea foam).
The story centers around three lifelong friends—Evie, a fisherman’s daughter and secret witch, Prince Nik, and his cousin, Prince Iker—each haunted by the tragic drowning of their friend Anna four years prior. Their lives are upended once more when a mermaid, Annemette, who bears a striking resemblance to Anna, turns up, determined to win Nik’s love and a permanent life on land.
What’s interesting about this book is that even though it’s a prequel to The Little Mermaid, it also hits a lot of the same beats as the fairy tale at the same time, which did help keep me guessing even though it’s a familiar story. It’s also a quieter, more thoughtful story than what you might expect with mermaids and witches involved, but if you’re patient, the plot steadily picks up speed until it takes off around the 70% mark and begins racing toward the final confrontation.
Henning’s characters are well-drawn, and she uses flashbacks of Anna’s drowning from each major character’s point of view to help illustrate their perspective and make their decisions—noble or not—easily believable and understandable.
All in all, I give Sea Witch 3.5 stars.