This story is set in a world that has links to our past. There is all powerful Empire, that has similarities to the ancient Japanese world, but there are also pirates and subservient peoples who have been conquered. The two central characters are Evelyn, the daughter of a noble, who is being sent to a foreign land as the bride for the local governor and Flora a member of the ship’s crew who hides her gender and is known as Florian. What Evelyn and the other passengers do not know is that their vessel is actually a pirate ship and their lives are in danger. Florian is detailed to guard the young guest and it is not long before they are attracted to each other. Adding some magic to the story, the crew of the vessel capture a mermaid and keep it in order to sell when they make land and it is Evelyn who discovers how to provide it with food. However, danger is lurking around every corner and eventually the girls are forced to escape the ship, together with the mermaid and find themselves cast up on a shore. What happens thereafter brings them into contact with a witch and also with the sea itself; but will they save themselves and what will happen to the other people on the ship?
This is a wonderfully imagined world which has been receiving excellent reviews in the USA and in Britain. The author has taken elements from different cultures and time periods and put them together to produce a fantasy world that both intrigues and repels us at times. The characters, especially the two main ones, are well developed and have a depth that makes us want to dig deeper into their past. Essentially this is a love story but within the setting of a very cruel world, where it is dangerous to trust anyone, even those who are close to you. There is a recurring theme throughout the book about the importance and strength of female relationships. We have the central story, but there are also references to other characters that have had also found strength in such relationships. This is one of those books that might take a while to get involved with, but it definitely repays the perseverance. It is worth noting that there is some violence at a couple of points, but it is meant for the 14+ age range and I am sure most will be fine with the level of bloodletting.