The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea first caught my eye with stunning cover (love the colours and the softness of them), and then I read it was based on a Korean folktale! I was pretty excited about this since I have been searching for a Korean fantasy or folklore retelling, for awhile now.
Based on the Korean folktale The Tale of Shim Cheong, about a girl who jumps in the sea as an offering to the Sea God, in exchange for enough rice to give the temple so her dad will regain his vision.
The original (translated version) was a bit thin but offered a nice building block for this tale.
In our retold version Mina is the star. Mina’s love for her brother Joon, prompts her to follow him to the sea, when he gets it in his head to accompany Shin Cheong- the Sea Gods chosen bride (whom Joon loves dearly). Afraid of the consequences of him being there with Shin Cheong, she takes it upon herself to try a save Joon, from the God’s possible wrath. Obviously, this goes about as well as you’d expect, and Mina ends up being the one who goes overboard.
When Mina awakes in the realm of the Sea God, she finds she is connected by the red thread of fate to the sleeping god. But nothing is ever that simple. Assassins sever the link between them, stealing her voice (which is her soul) trapping it in a magpie and lock her out of the palace. She has a month to find and regain her soul, and return to the gates of the Lotus house palace, if she doesn’t want to become a spirit, and lose her chance at marrying the Sea God and saving her people.
There is a fun cast of characters that we meet along the way that like in any good folk-tale, offer help and lessons to our heroine on her journey. Mina was lovely and I really liked the main/supporting characters (especially Hyeri, Shiki, Nari, Shin and Kirin).
This gets a lot of brownie points from me just because of how much I enjoyed the plotting of this tale. I’ve been reading a lot of years, so I wasn’t terribly surprised by any turn, but I was definitely very happy with the chosen paths. I think because a lot of time was spent with the main characters becoming friends, and learning to like and count on one another.
There never seems to be enough friendships in tales for me, and I loved how we had lots of that, and that there wasn’t a single incident of cattiness between the girls in this story.
Also, there were power-struggles galore between the gods’ eight houses, trying to shift the landscape to their benefits- which I loved. It also helped to thicken-up the story and gave it more room to explore the realm, and the culture.
At first this didn’t feel all that different from many of the other retellings I have read over the years. I read a lot of fantasy which may be why some of it- the gods, dragons, curses and fate- felt like pretty standard fare to me.
But as the tale unfolds, the culture becomes more entwined throughout the story, with the spirits (I loved everything about the river of souls) and animals, and also the ancestral family connections/rituals, so that was really nice to see. (I would have liked a bit more food- outside of the offerings, but that’s just me.)
I enjoyed this more and more as the story progressed and all these elements came together, building into to this nice big reveal and a great ending! Bravo!