According to myth, the Red String of Fate ties a person to her destiny. Some believe that it ties you to the one person your heart desires most.
The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh
★★★★☆ • 4 / 5 stars
Axie Oh’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is an enthralling feminist retelling of the classic Korean folktale “The Tale of Shim Cheong,” perfect for fans of Wintersong, Uprooted, and Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.
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…
Sooo, I really enjoyed this book. Out of all the fantasy books I tend to read, most of them just end up being western fantasy. That doesn’t mean I don’t like eastern fantasy as much – I absolutely love eastern fantasy! It just doesn’t come up on my radar as much for whatever reason.
The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh is a standalone YA fantasy novel published by Feiwel & Friends on February 22, 2023. It’s also a retelling of a Korean folktale.
Unlike the books that I’ve read and reviewed lately, I didn’t really have a ton of stuff that I liked vs. a bunch of stuff that I didn’t like. It was more that I liked a lot of stuff about the book a lot, but not as much as I could have. Hence why I only gave it 4 stars.
Anyway, let’s get into my review proper.
The Stuff I Liked and Why I didn’t Like It as Much as I Could’ve
Every year the storms begin, and every year a girl is brought to the sea.
First off, I liked the story a great deal. It was fast-paced and it flowed very nicely. I really liked the way that Oh wrote as well.
Sometimes, I did wish the plot had slowed down a couple of times though. I know, I know – I’m usually a lover of completely fast-paced books. But sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I like it when the plot slows down so that I can see and understand how the characters interact with each other and therefore see and understand why they care about one another. And this book didn’t really have those moments.
Continuing with this line of thought, I quite enjoyed the characters. Song Mina was a great lead, as well as a breath of fresh air after Miss Delilah Bard. She was stubborn and brave, but she was also fiercely protective of her loved ones, and I loved reading about how much she loved her family.
I’ve followed so many protagonists just forget about their family and friends – aka: what their initial motivation is – upon meeting the love interest. That is not so here, and I greatly appreciate this novel for not doing that. Mina misses and thinks about her family many times throughout, and it made me tear up a couple of times.
My eldest brother, Sung, says trust is earned, that to give someone your trust is to give them the knife to wound you. But Joon would counter that trust is faith, that to trust someone is to believe in the goodness of people and in the world that shapes them.
Shin was an acceptable love interest and dueteragonist. It was harder for me to get a grasp on his personality though, and I wish that there’d been more pages devoted to building his relationship with Mina. Their romance just felt a bit underdeveloped to me, though I certainly didn’t not like it. I just didn’t really get why they were so ride-or-die for each other as quickly as they ended up being.
Honestly, I felt that Mina had more chemistry with Namgi, an imugi and one of Shin’s – and later Mina’s – loyal friends. Even so, I also would’ve liked to see more pages devoted to their character interactions, as even their (platonic) relationship seemed kinda underdeveloped to me until closer to the end of the novel.
As for the other characters: I didn’t really care for Kirin (because he didn’t get enough page time for me to care about him), I really liked Shim Cheong and Mina’s brother Joon (both as a couple as well as their own characters), the ghost trio was great (of you know, you know), and I really liked Mina’s grandma (the flashbacks with her were very sweet).
My absolute favorite thing about the book, however, is how it handles fate and destiny. The narrative treats it as something that you choose. A sort of No Fate But What We Make type of thing, if you will. I am tired of prophesies and people and things that are destined to be just because it’s been ordained by the universe or whatever. So yeah, I really liked what Oh did here.
Other than all of that, I quite liked the climax and ending. Also, I didn’t notice any loose ends in the plot threads, which is always nice.
I found The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea to be an engaging, fairytale-like fantasy that never overstays its welcome or gets too wordy. Oh has a wonderful way with words, and writing style in general.
I definitely recommend this to anyone who likes fantasy-romance as well as those that like retellings. This one is new and wonderful in the sea of Cinderella retellings.
Thank you for reading and have an amazing day/night!
See ya ~Mar