There’s something comforting about standing in the surf on a beach when your feet sink ankle-deep in the sand and the waves roll in and the saltwater splashes up to your knees. There’s something mysterious about the vast unknown of the sea, how terrifyingly deep it is, and the strange things that lurk beneath the surface. There’s something thrilling about the waves, how they can softly lap against the shore or violently crash against it, how they can gently rock a boat or toss it about depending on their mood.
I grew up in the Tidewater area of Virginia six miles from Jamestown where replicas of three tall ships—The Godspeed, Discovery, and Susan Constant—remain docked and after a short bike ride, I could see their masts scraping against the sky. I spent my summers on the North Carolina barrier islands, visiting the pirate museum on Ocracoke, climbing lighthouses, mapping the Graveyard of the Atlantic, fishing the Gulf Stream, and swimming in both the Albemarle Sound and the Atlantic.
The Outer Banks and the Tidewater are steeped in seafaring mythology including pirates, diamond shoals, superstitions about the tides, and the creatures that make their home beneath the rolling waves. It’s no wonder that I wrote a book with ships, pirates, and the thrill of adventure mixed with the underlying trepidation of being out in open water. When writing In Deeper Waters, I hoped to show my love of the water, but I also wanted to show the dangerous side, the inherent power of the currents, and the knowledge of how small one person is compared to the enormity of the ocean.
This is a list of five books that embody those same feelings and experiences involving mythology of the deep, pirates and their exploits, action and adventure, and sailing across the wide deep blue sea.
The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
The sea herself is a character in this magical book that weaves mythology, romance, and self-discovery into a compelling sea-faring pirate narrative. In several interludes throughout the book, the sea becomes a point-of-view character with her own emotions, motives, and actions and the mermaids hold the sea’s memories. “But one is missing. And though she cannot say what memory she no longer holds, she knows something is gone. What pain it is, to know a memory is gone but not what it is. She reaches out her infinite fingers, grappling in the dark for what she has lost. She howls.” The book does not shy away from the brutal life of pirates with an opening scene where one of the main characters slits a man’s throat to solidify their place within the pirate crew. Flora, living as Florian, is working on the pirate ship to earn enough money to leave and start a new life. Evelyn is a girl on her way to an arranged marriage, her own casket in tow. Unbeknownst to her, she is sailing on a ship of pirates and is about to be captured by the crew. Together, Flora and Evelyn mount a daring escape, saving a mermaid in the process and in turn are saved by the sea herself, which leads them on an adventure including magic, witches, the Pirate Supreme, and a sweet blossoming romance.
The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
The story follows a crew of a ship that not only can traverse the seven seas, but also can travel through time. Sixteen-year-old Nix has grown up on the Temptation, her father’s time traveling pirate ship, and has traveled the globe and throughout history via magic Navigation. Navigation is dependent on maps and there are rules—such as not being able to use the same map twice. Her father’s obsession with finding an 1868 map to Honolulu to save his lost love, Nix’s mother, strains the relationship between Nix and her father as visiting that time and place could erase Nix’s very existence. What really stands out in this novel are the lush descriptions of the different locations where the ship travels, especially 1800’s Hawaii, which bring a sense of wonder and excitement. From the very first pages, the book transports the reader: “Once on deck, I shaded my eyes from the tropical sun as I peered off the stern. The island of Oahu floated in the distance, a blossom atop the blue mirror of the sea. Between us and the faraway shore, a coal steamer purled black smoke from her funnel.” There is also an eerie scene early in the novel that describes traveling on the edges of a map which highlights the danger and mysteriousness of the sea. Plus, the story includes a unique magic system and a great cast of characters.
A Clash of Steel by C.B. Lee
On September 7th it will be time to adventure to the South China Sea during the golden age of piracy. A Treasure Island remix, the reader can expect pirates, treasure maps, fabled riches and the thrill of adventure. The story follows Xiang, a girl who was left a gold pendant by her father who died at sea. When Anh steals the ordinary looking pendant, the girls discover a tiny map scroll inside which when decoded may lead them to the fabled last treasure of the Head of the Dragon, leader of the Dragon Fleet. Embarking on their journey, the girls discover that the sea is more dangerous than they thought. Written by the amazing CB Lee, who wrote the Sidekick Squad series, readers can expect queer representation, action and adventure, and of course a strong romance.
The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember
A queer, Norse retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” this novel follows Ersel, a mermaid who longs for a different life outside of the patriarchal mermaid society. Ersel meets Ragna, a shipwrecked Viking shield-maiden who is stranded on the mermaids’ glacier. From Ragna, Ersel learns of the life she wants and strikes a bargain with Loki, the trickster god. Of course, the bargain goes awry. To save herself, Ersel and Ragna must embark on an adventure that involves breaking their societal barriers, trying to outsmart Loki, while falling for each other. This story has lush worldbuilding, and action-adventure and there is a companion novel that tells Ragna’s story, The Navigator’s Touch which has a revenge arc and pirates!
The Vicious Deep by Zoraida Cordova
While not a pirate adventure, this book still has plenty of action and is a lighthearted take on what may lurk in the depths of the ocean. Told from the hilarious point of view of Tristan Hart, an average teenager who works as a lifeguard, the story plays on the tropes of hidden royalty and family secrets. During a sudden tidal wave on the beach, Tristan is sucked out to sea. Three days later, he is spit back on land with no memory of where he was except dreams of a terrifying mermaid. Tristan then finds out he is a merman, the son of a mermaid and a human, and has his own tail and fins. Oh, and he’s related to the Sea King and is a candidate to rule when the king’s reign ends. This is a fun and funny adventure of Tristan discovering a whole supernatural world and navigating his abilities, life expectations, while figuring out a romance with his best friend.
F.T. Lukens is the author of four young adult novels published through Interlude Press, and her book Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic was a 2017 Cybils Award finalist in YA Speculative Fiction, won the ForeWord INDIES Book of the Year Gold Award for YA Fiction, and the Bisexual Book Award for Speculative Fiction, and it was also recently named to ALA’s 2019 Rainbow List. F.T. lives in North Carolina with her husband, three kids, three dogs, and three cats. Visit her at her website.