In this shimmering, swashbuckling fantasy, the fates of Flora, a poor orphan, and Evelyn, an Imperial noble, intertwine as each struggles to find her place in a grim and opportunistic world overseen by the brutal Nipran Empire.
Ever since Flora killed a man to prove herself worthy of a pirate's life aboard the Dove, she's been accepted by the crew as Florian, "something better than a girl." The Dove masquerades as a passenger ship, and its murderers and rapists trick "stiff-legged landsmen" aboard, then sell them into slavery. Desperate to escape to a better life, Flora and brother Alfie save all their meager wages--until Alfie blows all of their money on that forbidden "oblivion drink," mermaid's blood. When the Dove takes on a group of wealthy Imperials, Flora is given the task of guarding the virginal Lady Evelyn Hasegawa so she may be sold--intact--to work as a "slave-whore" on the Red Shores. Although Flora sees Evelyn as a typical spoiled Imperial, she is impressed by the compassion Evelyn shows when she uses her own blood to keep a captured mermaid alive. And the Sea, mother to all mermaids, notices, too.
Maggie Tokuda-Hall (Also an Octopus) has crafted a brooding, magical adventure with a healthy dose of intrigue. Her prose is delightful, by turns delicate and brutal, as her plot demands. At the heart of this tale about learning when to stand out and when to blend in, lies the importance, imparted by first mate Rake, of "know[ing] your truth, not your story." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI