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…
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review & can confirm all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Mina’s land has been cursed with bad weather for generations. To try and appease the Sea God, they sacrifice a beautiful maiden to his lands once every year in the hope one will become his true bride and end the storms plaguing their lands. This year, Shim Cheong, the most beautiful girl in the village has been chosen as the sacrifice, but she also happens to be Mina’s brothers beloved. In an attempt to save her brothers heart, Mina throws herself into the water in Cheong’s stead. She finds herself in the spirit land, where the Sea God is under a curse, one she is determined to break. The one thing Mina doesn’t have is time, with only a month in the Spirit realm until she becomes one herself, Mina has to rely on her strange group of helpers, the most mysterious of which is Shin, the boy whose job is to protect the Sea God at all costs. But there are those who would see the Sea God stay as he is, and Mina will soon have to choose between her heart and the lives of the people she loves.
I think it’s safe to say I absolutely adored this book, and a large reason for that were the stand out characters that Oh creates. Mina is so unbelievably headstrong and determined, she never falters in her belief of the Gods, even when faced with their true selves in the spirit lands. She knows she isn’t the prettiest, or the most graceful, but her determination will serve her better than either of those when it comes to her task. She goes on both an emotional and spiritual journey throughout this book and I just couldn’t help but relate to her ensuring her grief became my grief, her love became my love. She wants nothing more than to free the Sea God and save the lives of her family and, even when that task puts her at odds with her own happiness, she never wavers in her resolve to see things though.
The side characters in this story are all amazingly developed and I fell in love with every single one. Though Mina spends the majority of the book in the Spirit Realm we learn about her family through stories and memories, making it easy for us to understand why she loves them so much, and why she would risk her life to save her brothers heart. But my favourite characters were those that lived in the Spirit Realm. Some spirits, some mythological creatures and others Gods, they all have a pivotal part to play in Mina’s story. I especially loved how the author used certain characters identities as a plot device later in the book, one that had me an emotional wreck. Whether they are friend, or foe they all make an impact of some sort on the story and I loved meeting every single one of them.
I’m sure by now you all know how much I love mythology and The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea has it in heaps. Based around Korean mythology and loosely based on the Tale of Shim Ch’ŏng, Oh effortlessly drags us into her spirit world filled with all sorts of mythological beings. I especially loved seeing the politics between all the different Gods and houses that rule in the Spirit Realm. Oh really shows us that ‘higher beings’ aren’t all that different from us mortals with their political machinations and grudges that can last centuries. Thanks to Oh’s descriptive and lush writing style the story moves at break neck pace, but as we as the reader never feel rushed, rather we are transported to the spirit realm, slowly watching the story unfold.
Belief plays a large part in this story and some of my favourite scenes were when Mina’s belief in the God’s was tested. It would have been incredibly easy for her to enter this spirit world, see how the Gods live while her world is dying above them, and become jaded and despondent. But Mina doesn’t get sad, she gets angry. Her belief, her determination that the Gods truly do love humans and want them to live happy and long lives is one of the main factors in saving the world above, and I loved seeing her never waver, even in the face of cruel and indifferent God’s. She believed, she trusted that the stories her grandmother told her was true, and without that she wouldn’t have survived, let alone break the curse.
The romance in this book was quite strange. Not in a bad way, but our two main characters manage to fall in love with minimal interaction and, while with some other authors, this would have instantly put me off, Oh manages to make it seem less like insta love, and more like two people who are fated to be finally finding each other. A lot of authors, when writing a stand alone, tend to make the romance a large part of the plot, but with The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea, It’s a slow progression. They have very few scenes where we get to see them in any kind of intimate setting, and I’m not talking about sex, but rather the little intimacies of relationships, the glances and touches. It could easily be described as an enemies to lovers romance, because they do not start off on the best of terms, but Oh writes it as if they were fated together, and it’s so beautiful getting what little glimpses into their relationship we can and seeing it progress.
The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is one of the most beautiful and effortless stand-alone’s I’ve read in a long time. Oh manages to weave a trilogy worth of story into one book without it seeming rushed, or like we have missed anything. I loved everything from the setting, the mythology and the characters, and can see Oh becoming a new favourite author of mine.