by Axie Oh
Publication: February 22, 2022
**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**
The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is an enchanting, heartfelt story inspired by the tale of Shim Cheong, a girl who sacrifices herself to help her father. In this retelling, Shim Cheong wavers in her final moments, but Mina immediately sacrifices herself for her brother Joon and the woman he loves. Her decision thrusts her into the Spirit Realm and becomes the Sea God’s Bride in place of Shim Cheong. Just as all is not well in the human world, Mina discovers the Spirit Realm is also in disarray as the Sea God slumbers away in his palace.
For the first half of the book, I felt off, like something was missing. While I was familiar with the tale of Shim Cheong, I felt like I was tossed into the middle of a story without an understanding of what was going on. Mina plummeted into the sea without much of an introduction, but her time in the Spirit Realm was interspersed with her memories of her family along with folktales she shares or recalls. This helped to provide the foundation I thought was initially lacking. The story itself wandered at times; things were happening and characters were doing things but also nothing was going on. (I hope that makes some sense! Ha…) Eventually, I found my bearings halfway through, realizing this was the adventure; there would be no journeying beyond the plunge into the Spirit Realm or other parts of it.
Despite my shaky start, it was easy to immerse myself in the world. The Spirit Realm was both new and familiar because of elements like ancestral rites and spirits benefiting from them or the concept of a red string of fate that tied individuals to one another. Then there were also the mythical beasts and the many gods and goddesses that reigned. I especially enjoyed Oh’s variation on the red string as well as her emphasis on fate being a combination of something that happens to someone and something that can be altered. The presence of characters like Mask, Dai, and Miki also made me feel like I was inside a Miyazaki film. While the folktale may have provided Oh with a canvas to work from, this world and the story she paints are uniquely her own.
Along with fate, themes of family and loyalty dominate the book. Mina’s sacrifice and her reasons for taking Shim Cheong’s place emphasize these themes. While all made a dent in my emotions, I was moved most by Mina’s sense of hope. Despite her current predicament, she never gives up. Even when the mysterious lord Shin challenges her hopes and beliefs, she remains steadfast and clings to them. Mina gave me hope.
While I may have been hesitant in the beginning, I couldn’t help but grow to like the book. Initially, I wasn’t sure where Oh was taking me, but once I reached the second half, the book picked up considerably. It was the events in this half that helped me make up my mind, allowing me to add the half star even though it was close to being just four stars. Should Oh decide to return to this world in another book, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick it up.