In The Girl who Fell Beneath the Sea, young-adult author Axie Oh reimagines the Korean tale of Shim Cheong with a change of perspective : we follow Mina, the little sister of Shim Cheong’s boyfriend, who decides to sacrifice herself to the sea god in her stead. As weird as it sounds given that the novel starts with Mina jumping into the sea, The Girl who Fell Beneath the Sea is a truly uplifting and hopeful book—so very gentle and sentimental, almost whimsical.
When reviewing books, we can never detach ourselves from our personal preferences—whether we want it or not, our reading experience is always influenced by what we personally enjoy best in a story and I always try to take it into account, especially when it comes to arcs. Did I fell in love with The Girl who Fell Beneath the Sea? Sadly, no. Do I think that other readers could, however? Absolutely.
So what can you expect in this story?
- The Girl who Fell Beneath the Sea reads like a love letter to storytellers : indeed tales and their role in shaping the world are given the central place they deserve and I really appreciated all the Korean folklore and myths Axie Oh incorporated in her story. It was fascinating and truly enchanting.
- The characters are very likeable, starting with Mina, whose need to protect her family and community is really moving. If the importance of family bonds is a central theme, this story also looks at the relationships we build throughout our lives and I loved that both were given the place they’re due.
- The romance is very sweet and so tender. There was a moment when it lost me a little bit towards the end, and it did feel a bit rushed at times, but I still couldn’t help but root for them and I would have adored it as a teen.
- The writing is beautiful and has the dreamlike quality we often find in fairy-tales retellings. I personally prefer darker ones and this kind of uplifting stories often lose my interest because for me, they lack the tension I need to truly immerse myself in a story, and that’s what happened here, sadly. As I said however, this is very much a me thing so if it sounds like a kind of story you would enjoy, I recommend you try it!
- The plot is interesting but meanders a bit too much at times. I also wish a few events didn’t feel quite so convenient : the strings were too obvious sometimes and I can’t deny that it tampered my enjoyment a little. The Girl who Fell Beneath the Sea also relies on twists and turns that I believe can truly change your experience. I guessed everything early on, so it didn’t work for me, but I’m also an adult who’s avidly read countless books over the years, and not the target audience.
Overall, The Girl who Fell Beneath the Sea is a charming retelling and I would definitely recommend it to teen readers—and please don’t think that I’m making a value judgment here : writing good young-adult novels is hard, and even though this particular kind is ultimately not my favorite, it does not mean that I can’t recognize its qualities. My personal rating hovers around 3.5 stars, but I liked it enough to round it up to 4 stars.
Thank you to the publisher -Hodder & Stoughton- for sending me an ARC to review through Netgalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
About The Girl who Fell Beneath the Sea
Author : Axie Oh | Publisher : Hodder & Stoughton | Genre : YA Fantasy | Pages : 336
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…