When I heard there was a new fantasy book coming out featuring an old Korean folktale and written by a Korean American, I knew I had to get my hands on it. What I ended up with is a sweeping tale that takes you to the Spirit Realm, faces your biggest destiny, and fall in love. This book is out later this month, but thanks to Fierce Reads for gifting me an ARC.
Here’s more about The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea
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…
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This book hits the ground running. I mean, the first scene takes place on a boat as Shim-Cheong is about to sacrifice herself to the Sea God for another year without terrible storms that destroy their crops and flood their farms. But Shim-Cheong doesn’t want to go and instead, Mina jumps into the sea sacrificing herself. From there, she’s off to a Spirit Realm where the Red String of Fate ties her to the Sea God as a potential bride. I have to be honest, there were some jaw dropping moments throughout the story. The twists and turns throughout the book were spectacular and really keep you engaged with wanting to find out more.
The book is already compared to Spirited Away and that is so accurate. From the moment Mina is in the Spirit Realm, she only has a finite amount of time before she loses her soul and becomes a spirit of the world (related), then she meets a man who doesn’t remember why he’s the way he is (also feels related), and she helps him find out at the end (can we admit that they’re similar now?!). The swept-off feeling and entering a world of angry gods and vengeful goddesses with helpful spirits as well, it truly feels like you’re leaving the real world for another.
I also loved the running theme throughout the book; the gods and goddesses working to help out the humans and the reciprocal nature of worshipping them. You see how the gods and goddesses are sort of slacking in their work and Mina correlating that to how the real world suffers. I loved that Axie Oh dives into these because the symbiotic relationship between humans and gods was so prevalent in Korean history. The theme returns often throughout the story and really examines this Spirit Realm from the third-party observer.
I’ll be honest, there was a few things that irked me about the book. The book has a ton of potential. There were so many new things introduced in the story, there was romance, there was action, there were villains and dark plots. There was everything you wanted in an epic fantasy novel, but I just wanted the dial turned all the way up. These things were introduced, but not enough for me. I wanted to see the romance slowly play out between the characters, I wanted to clearly understand why the villains were the way they were. I wanted much more exposition and much more world building. The story doesn’t suffer from the lack of these things, but it would have launched the book into a favorite for the year for me.
But overall, I definitely felt swept away by the story, immersed in the world of Spirits and hoping that Mina was able to find a way to save her village. You’ll need to hold on for the ride on this one!