Deadly storms have plagued Mina’s village for generations. It wasn’t always like this way. Many year ago the countryside was protected by the great Sea God–both a protector and confidant of the emperor. Everything changed when the emperor died. Now instead of blessing the area with protection, many believe the Sea God curses them with death and destruction.
Every year a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to become the Sea God’s bride in an attempt to appease him and break the curse. Eventually villagers hope one girl might be the Sea God’s true bride–able to love him and remind him of his duty to protect the people and stop the storms.
No one is surprised when Shim Cheong is chosen as this year’s bride. She is, by far, the most beautiful girl in their village. But she is also the only girl Mina’s older brother loves. Rather than watch them both suffer, Mina sacrifices herself in Cheong’s place.
Beneath the sea Mina finds another kingdom in chaos filled with lesser gods and magical creatures all waiting for the Sea God to wake from an enchanted sleep. Trapped in the land of spirits with a god unable to break his own curse, Mina will have to take fate into her own hands to break the curse and save both her people and the Sea God himself in The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea (2022) by Axie Oh.
The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is a standalone, feminist take on the Korean folk story “The Tale of Shim Cheong.” Mina’s narration is practical but also open to wonder as she explores the literal magic (and dangers) of the spirit world. Oh introduces many of the elements found in the traditional story, even including one version in the text of the novel, so that readers do not need to have familiarity with the source material before reading.
Throughout the novel female friendship and matriarchal bonds take center stage as Mina again and again makes her own fate. Alone in the spirit world, Mina draws strength from memories of her beloved grandmother and support from the other former sea brides that she finds in beneath the sea. In saving Cheong, Mina claims agency over her fate in a figurative sense but also, later, in a literal sense as her red String of Fate repeatedly tries to steer Mina in directions she refuses to follow in the spirit realm.
Mina is a proactive, clever heroine who is very aware of her strengths as well as her vulnerabilities as a mortal trapped in the spirit world. With support from surprising allies including a trio of ghosts and other mythical creatures, Mina slowly begins to make a place for herself beneath the sea while also making inroads with understanding and ending the Sea God’s curse. But it isn’t until Mina embraces her role as a bride and accepts help from other brides, including Cheong, that Mina is fully able to understand how to break the curse and save everyone she loves.
The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is a retelling that is as evocative as it is inventive; a gripping story where a girl has to learn how to save herself in order to save her world. Highly recommended.
Possible Pairings: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones, A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar, Spirited Away
*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*