Fans of Natasha Bowen’s 2021 fantasy Skin of the Sea — and anyone who enjoys stories about mermaids and West African folklore — will be thrilled to hear sequel Soul of the Deep is arriving this fall. Gizmodo interviewed the Nigerian-Welsh author over email to learn about the anticipated release; we’ve also got a first look at its gorgeous cover.
First, here’s a summary of Soul of the Deep. Main character Simidele is back — and facing some rather intense new challenges.
To save those closest to her, Simi traded away everything: her freedom, her family, and the boy she loves. Now she is sworn to serve a new god, watching over the Land of the Dead at the bottom of the ocean.
But when signs of demons begin to appear, it’s clear there are deeper consequences of Simi’s trade. These demons spell the world’s ruin . . . and because of Simi, they now have a way into the human realm.
With the fate of the world at stake, Simi must break her promise and team up with a scheming trickster of a god. And if they succeed, perhaps Simi can also unbreak her heart along the way, and find herself again.
Next up is the cover; the art is inspired by the work of Jeff Manning, with images used under licence from Shutterstock.com.
And finally, here’s our chat with Bowen!
Cheryl Eddy, Gizmodo: Skin of the Sea was your debut novel and it became a best-seller. What has that experience been like for you?
Natasha Bowen: It has been wonderful and surreal. To have my debut be so well received has been a literal dream. It’s been amazing to hear that my story has had such an impact on people.
Gizmodo: For people reading this interview who might not have read Skin of the Sea yet, can you give us a brief summary of that book and its world and characters?
Bowen: Skin of the Sea is a story of magic, mermaids, and courage. We follow Simidele, a young girl who has been remade as Mami Wata, a mermaid, with the task of gathering the souls of those who pass in the sea in order to bless their journey home. When she saves a boy thrown overboard, she breaks an ancient decree. To save other Mami Wata and herself, Simi must journey to make amends and seek forgiveness from the Supreme Creator.
Gizmodo: Simi, the main character of Skin of the Sea, will return for Soul of the Deep. How has her character evolved since the first book, and what will be the main conflicts, challenges, and opposing forces she’ll face in the sequel?
Bowen: Simidele found herself in Skin of the Sea. Being able to reclaim her memories has given her the power of who she is. She’s stronger now in many ways, but has stayed true to her love and protection of those she cares about. Simi’s sacrifice at the end of book one colours the sequel. In Soul of the Deep, she faces choices that test her loyalty and her feelings.
Gizmodo: Who is depicted on the cover of the book? Can you set the scene for the cover illustration?
Bowen: Simidele is featured on Soul of the Deep, but in a different way than Skin of the Sea. I think this cover shows the depth of her personality and hints at the story to come.
Gizmodo: Skin of the Sea drew on West African mythology to help tell its tale. Will we be seeing more of that influence in the sequel?
Bowen: Definitely! We see more myths, spiritual beliefs, and customs already introduced in Skin of the Sea, as well as other creatures that I’m excited for readers to discover. I won’t say too much, but in Soul of the Deep we have West African versions of other creatures that have long held places in both our dreams and nightmares.
io9: What are some of your favourite themes or elements you’ve drawn from that specific mythology, and why do you think it works so well in a YA fantasy realm?
Bowen: The themes of transformation and spirituality work very well in the YA fantasy realm. I think this is because of the period of change that we all go through as young adults and even as adults. We’re all changing, evolving as people, and so this theme of transition and finding the real us, is universal.
Gizmodo: Why do you think mermaids have such an enduring fascination for us, from folklore to pop culture?
Bowen: The seas and oceans hide so much, and I think that we are often drawn to the unknown. Our imaginations can run wild with what is beneath the water. I think we focus on mermaids because they are us. Or at least a version of us. In essence we see ourselves in them, our humanity but mixed with magical elements. Who wouldn’t want to escape beneath the sea and experience a whole new world?
Gizmodo: Did you always know that you’d be writing a sequel to Skin of the Sea? Will there be more books to follow after Soul of the Deep?
Bowen: I always knew that Simidele’s world would be more than one book. It’s too big and too rich to just be a single story. Working on Soul of the Deep was like coming home to me, and I think that there is still so much to be explored. I’d love to publish a book about Yinka and possibly another about yumboes.
Natasha Bowen’s Soul of the Deep will be released September 27; you can pre-order a copy here.