Review: The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

Review by Eliza

This review first appeared at Leviathan Libraries.

Mina loves her brother, Joon, so much that she follows him out to sea. Joon’s beloved, Shim Cheong, has been chosen to be sacrificed as the Sea God’s bride in an attempt to appease the Sea God and stop the storms that have been destroying villages and crops for a hundred years. Mina sacrifices herself so Shim Cheong can stay with Joon. She discovers the Sea God’s been cursed and when Shin takes her soul from her, she works with unexpected allies to try to get it back. When thieves try to steal her soul from Shin, they realize other houses in the Spirit Realm are conspiring against the Sea God, and they struggle to unravel the mystery surrounding the Sea God, find out how to lift the curse and stop the villains before it’s too late.

Title: The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea | Publisher: Feiwel & Friends | Pub Date: 2022-02-22 | Pages: 326 | ISBN13/ASIN: 978-12507808677 | Genre: YA Fantasy | Language: English | Source: Purchased | Starred Review

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea Review

Many books have a catalyst that prompts their protagonist to set out on a quest, and the events that follow force them to change along the way. What’s interesting in The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is that Mina never really changes. She’s a headstrong young woman, determined to make her own choices and find the answers she seeks. Mina’s only ever been concerned with one thing: stopping the storms that hurt her family and village. She acknowledges along the way she isn’t exceptionally beautiful, like Shim Cheong and all the brides that came before her. She admits she has no great talent. But when Mina doesn’t say about herself is shown through her actions on every page of the story. She’s a loyal, determined person who will do anything to help her family and the people she cares about.

That loyalty and commitment helps her stand up to gods, demons, and monsters throughout the story. And while she may have initially been dismissed by Shin and his companions, she soon wins their friendship through her actions. Ultimately, that’s the change that unfolds through the story’s events. Mina changes the people, and the world, around her. And they change for the better.

There are a lot of events in the story and it moves at a steady pace, but I don’t think about this story being plot-heavy. For me, it centered so much on Mina and her choices, and the rich worldbuilding.

While Mina is the POV character and the person we spend the most time with, she’s surrounded by a cast of intriguing characters. Shin has his own arc, and his interactions with Mina change him as the story progresses. Mask, Dai, and Miki seem like unlikely allies at first, but the reason they want to help Mina is soon apparent. Mina forms an easy friendship with Namgi and even wins over Kirin, and each bond she forms adds to the story’s spell. We see that while Mina may not have thought herself remarkable in any particular way, she is a remarkable friend and her loyalty and determination win her acceptance and admiration, even from would-be foes.

This novel is a retelling of a Korean folktale called The Tale of Shim Cheong and many readers compare it to Spirited Away. Love and sacrifice are central to the story, and one of the hardest things to accept is that Mina’s commitment to her family and the people in her village may prompt her to give up on her heart’s desires. Shin realizes this, and expresses it. “I was angry, but not at you. I was angry at the fate I’d been given. Because I realized that for you to have what you want, I’d have to lose the only thing I’d ever wanted.” It seemed Shin and Mina were star-crossed lovers doomed to an unhappy ending. 

Ultimately, it was as though Axie Oh had cast a spell on me, and the developments in the end were both surprising and satisfying. For me, it took a book I’d thoroughly enjoyed to a whole new level. 4.5/5 stars

A surprising and satisfying retelling of The Tale of Shim Cheong, often compared to Spirited Away. A fantastic fantasy novel from Axie Oh.

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