“The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea” by Axie Oh | Book Review

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“This is a tale of bravery and sacrifice, a retelling of the Korean folktale “The Tale of Shim Cheong.” Believing they’re cursed by the Sea God who once protected them, Mina’s village annually chooses a bride and throws her into the sea as a sacrifice for peace. Still, floods and wars continue to ravage the land with no end in sight. Shim Cheong is the latest choice, her unmatched beauty thought to be a sign of the “true bride” and impending peace. Her sweetheart Joon risks punishment by death to ride in the boat, joined at the last minute by his younger sister Mina who wants to protect him. Knowing how much the young couple loves one another, Mina bravely throws herself into the sea where she’s carried to the Spirit Realm. She finds the Sea God, but he isn’t the merciless ruler she was expecting; he’s trapped under a sleeping spell. With the help of her new acquaintances led by the enigmatic Shin, Mina navigates a world of demons and spirits to wake her groom and save her home before time runs out, and she can no longer leave as a human.”

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If you added “The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea” to your TBR because of Kuri Huang’s stunning art, fear not because the setting and atmosphere are just as magical as advertised on the cover. I wanted to dive in and never come back, minus the sacrifice part of course. My favorite part was the friendships Mina found on her journey through the Spirit Realm which led to an emotional twist that hit me like a ton of bricks. Wow! I may or may not have sobbed in a bubble bath late at night for a lengthy period of time.

Just like Axie Oh’s other book “XOXO, I thoroughly enjoyed the fictional world and platonic relationships but didn’t quite fall for the romance, although I did feel it a little more in this story. Some of the banter was cute, but overall, the love story felt too young and rushed. My head wanted to root for a happy ending because the couple is swoonworthy in theory, but there were no heart palpitations or stomach butterflies for me, I’m afraid.

Due to an uptick in my enjoyment, I’m giving my second experience with Axie Oh’s work four stars. I recommend this beautiful Korean fantasy to readers who are familiar with the young adult genre and don’t mind a young love romance that doesn’t dive too deep. The world and characters will enchant you!

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Content Breakdown:

*Disclaimer: This section of my review is thorough and might contain SPOILERS.

Alcohol: Mentions of Drunkenness, Liquor, & Wine

Blood & Violence: A character slashes her palm with a knife as a pledge.

A character says the humans are responsible for polluting rivers & streams with bloodshed.

During a fight, a spray of blood splatters a paper screen in the room; in the same scene, there’s an inflicted wound & mention of dripping blood.

There are numerous mentions of a murdered body that was tossed into the sea.

As an “Imugi,” Kirin can cut himself open (i.e. his palm) & use his silver blood to heal, an ability he uses a few times. He’s thanked by a recipient of his healing powers who remembers how it felt when his warm blood oozed into the wound.

Mina tells a tale in which a man finds an injured swallow & nurses it back to health, receiving wealth in return for his good deed. His older brother mirrors those actions to receive the same wealth, but after he pushes a baby bird out of the nest to expedite the process, he recieves bad luck instead, including a beating from a group of demons.

During a conversation on page 175, the words “left bleeding on the floor” are said as a hypothetical situation. In that same scene, a knife is used to cut an attacker, leaving a bleeding wound on his cheek, and one of the rescuers stands above the unconscious bodies he’s responsible for.

On page 180, Mina sees the River of Souls in person, witnessing the steady flow of pale, bloodless bodies & a child desperately trying to get out.

When two “Imugi” clash on page 192, the bigger creature bites through the skin of the other & draws blood.

A character is shot in the shoulder by a crossbow and left in a coma due to blood loss.

An “Imugi” is stabbed in the neck by a sword, writhing in pain & spewing blood & venom.

At the end of chapter 33, a character is pierced through the heart by an arrow, blood flowing out of his mouth as he slowly dies.

There are at least seven other brief mentions of blood throughout the book.

Creatures, Gods, & the Afterlife: A main element of this story is the web of gods, goddesses, & the afterlife. Among those named are a death god named Shiki, the goddess of creation, the goddess of moon & memory, & a white fox demon who eats human men (and women within the Spirit Realm) & is served by a group of priestesses. Additionally, there are mentions of shrines & temples.

There’s one deity known as the god of gods & ruler of them all: the “Sea God.” Every year a girl is thrown into the sea, given to him as a bride in hopes of peace.

There’s a dragon-like creature called an “Imugi” who worships no gods, instead believing it can become a god itself by living long enough or fighting a certain number of wars.

The Spirit Realm is a place between heaven & earth where gods, spirits, & mythical creatures reside. They pulled themselves from the River of Souls, not wanting to move on to another life. Once they die in the Spirit Realm, they return to the river for the final time.

Humans craft paper boats to carry their wishes to dead ancestors in the Spirit Realm who will bargain on their behalf with lesser gods to fulfill dreams & desires.

Disability + Insensitive Language: There’s a blind character who’s known by villagers as “Shim the Blind,” a nickname that could be interpreted as insensitive & reductive.

Death: Mina’s father died at sea & her mother in childbirth.

On page 18, there’s a discussion about a baby who was born early & died because any child born during the storms doesn’t survive; this death is mentioned again later in the book.

Mina touches a paper boat & has a vision of a young, pregannt woman crying; she tries to help, but the wish is old, the woman & her child long since passed away.

Language: B*st*rd

Orphaned: Mina was raised by her grandparents after losing both parents.

Sensual/Sexual: From the end of chapter 22 to the beginning of chapter 23, two characters sleep wrapped in each other’s embrace as one of them battles a fever.

There is kissing on pages 287 & 320.

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