Our Soul of the Deep book review returns to Natasha Bowen’s vibrant world filled with West African mythology, concluding the duology that began with Skin of the Sea.
This book has been on my list since I wrote my Skin of the Sea book review last year. As I said in that article, this novel introduced me to many elements of West African mythology, including the Mami Wata and various orisas, as well as the richness of the culture Bowen brought the page. It was exciting to return to this world to witness the consequences of Simi’s actions from the first book and to find out what she’d do next.
Much like the last one, I have to start off this Soul of the Deep book review with a commentary on the novel’s cover. Equally as beautiful, this one trades in the tranquil turquoise for a bold indigo. Simi once again stares directly at the reader, but she now faces us directly. Coy and mysterious on the last cover, this version of the character is undaunted, ready to fight until her last breath in order to save her loved ones.
And that’s exactly what we get in this book. Skin of the Sea ended on quite the cliffhanger, with Simi making a choice that would not only impact her future, but the future of the entire world. She wasn’t aware of the far-reaching consequences of her actions, but it’s not long into Soul that reality comes crashing down.
I enjoyed the dark beginning to this novel, where Simi chooses to bear responsibility for what she has done. She is in a dark place, but there is peace at the bottom of the ocean, even if the water chills her to the bone.
When an old friend returns to her side, Simi must make another choice, which sets her on the path she journeys for the rest of the book. While the orisas took centerstage in the first novel, this one explores their antithesis, the ajogun. These are personifications of malevolent forces, and they’re about to knock on humanity’s doorstep. They are introduced as the bringers of the apocalypse, and never once did I question if they were capable of following through on their promise.
Simi and Kola find their way back to each other, though it’s not a happy reunion given what they are about to face. Each has been changed by events of the past, but I couldn’t help but love the moments that reminded me why these two had connected in the first place. Bowen does an excellent job of keeping tension high, while still giving us everything we want when it comes to the romantic aspects of this book.
Another element that Bowen has perfected in the big battle scene, which carried through several chapters and detailed the widespread ramifications of war. The lead up to the battle was realistic, with high stakes and dire consequences. Not everyone makes it out alive, and though we mourn for those lost, hope continues to linger on every page. What Simi and Kola are doing is bigger than themselves, and they are willing to risk everything to ensure the ajogun do not claw their way into the mortal realm.
Esu’s prominence on the page provided some levity to a surprisingly heavy book, with Bowen doing an excellent job of capturing the deity’s mischievous nature while giving him copious amounts of charisma and power. If you like figures such as Hermes or Loki, then you can’t go wrong with Esu.
Tension builds throughout the book until this final battle scene, and you’re left wondering what could possibly happen. Will Esu betray them? Can Simi harness the song of the Mokele-mbembe? Who will stay by her side and fight for good, and who will be tempted by the false promises of darkness? There were a few twists at the end that caught me by surprise, and I appreciated the complex nature of everyone involved. Villains are better when they believe they are heroes, and a hero who doesn’t face their worst nightmare doesn’t truly understand the weight of that mantle.
I want to finish off this Soul of the Deep book review by vaguely hinting at the ending of the novel. I won’t spoil it in specific terms, but I want to applaud Bowen for staying true to Simi’s nature. Too often, we see female characters giving up their old life in order to live a new one with their love interest (The Little Mermaid is an apt comparison). While Simi has struggled with who she is—and has questioned her purpose on more than one occasion—the decision she makes by the end of the book is for her and her alone. She does not accept influence from Kola, Yemoja, Esu, or anyone else. As layered and complex as her existence is now, her journey has led her to the type of solace she has longed for.