REVIEW: The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh
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…
Dear Ms. Oh,
I fell in love with this cover and the blurb sounded wonderful. Alas, I’m learning the hard way that “cover love” can get me into trouble and there’s more to a book than a good blurb. Based on the huge number of 4-5 star reviews already, there is a market for this book but it ended up not being more than meh for me.
From the first to last, TGWFBtS is all about Korean culture and fairy/folk tales. Before I started reading it, I learned a bit about “The Tale of Shim Cheong” bits of which are incorporated in this book. A bravura scene starts us off as Mina manages to swim out to the boat taking Shim Cheong – as well as Mina’s brother Joon – to a date with destiny. As I read the next bit, I pondered why it’s always beautiful young maidens who get tossed into the sea, or to a dragon, or in this case both. Why not handsome young men for a change??! But Shim Cheong – the most beautiful girl in the village and Joon’s true love – is the sacrificial victim du jour. Mina isn’t going to stand for this and ends up pledging herself to the Sea God and leaping off the boat. When she awakens, she’s in a new world, facing people she doesn’t know, has her soul taken from her, and has a month to figure things out and save the world or else she will die and become a spirit plus the storms ravaging her homeland will never end.
Since, Mina’s first-person POV is all the reader has to go by, there was a lot that I might not have culturally understood. But it was fun – though initially drawn out – learning about the Sea God’s undersea kingdom. Some hand waving went into the fact that an alive Mina could breath underwater (fish swam through some scenes and whales were overhead) but okay. The different clans jockeying for power, the various spirits and how they made a living, and discovering the trio of men who will take a large part in the story was engrossing.
Mina both is and isn’t the standard Chosen One. She’s got guts, bravery, and the desire to choose and forge her own destiny yet she is also ultimately turned into the Grand Savior of the World whom everyone adores. She gives Gods and Goddesses employment advice while the common spirits cheer her and hail her and that’s before the final section wherein the people of the kingdom in which she lives give her a rousing welcome and line up to sing her praises. Sure she wanders off alone (she’s determined!) or plunges into situations she’s been told to avoid (she’s feisty!) but there always seems to be someone to save her bacon (though she does know how to use the knife that her great-grandmother had) and forgive her impulsiveness.
The Cheering Section – as I came to see them – are the rag-tag band of spirits (and I figured out that plot twist) and the seeming K-Pop boy band of male characters. Yet despite all the cheery or dreamy descriptions of them, most of these characters fell flat and I didn’t sense much of them beyond what I was explicitly told. The hero is almost the worst of these and at times was little more than blah and boring instead of broody and angsty. He and Mina fell in love more because the reader is told that they do rather than letting us see it. And there is a lot of angst at times as this book is very, very YA. Painfully earnest YA with romance parts that I think are supposed to make me swoon and “let’s save the world” action sequences that start piling up in the last third even as I still don’t know a lot of things about the plot. Late in the story, one character says “Why was the Sea God cursed in the first place? And if he was cursed, who was the one who cursed him?” My thought was “At 85% of the way through the book, why don’t I have any clue either?”
I kept reading until the end and wanted to know what would happen next. The representation and cultural world building was great and the world presented to the reader was fun to wander through. I did enjoy the found family feel even if the characters weren’t that fleshed out. The pacing was off – starting very slowly then revving at the end – while a lot that happened seemed very plot convenient. At times I didn’t really feel the tension that I should have either as each adverse event is quickly dealt with. There are a lot of YA books that adults can enjoy but I feel TGWFBtS isn’t one of them. In the end, I wanted to like it much more than I actually did. C-