'The Little Mermaid' Villainess Gets Her Own Story In This New YA Novel

by Caitlin White

You've probably already heard some variation of the story: A romantic, spunky young mermaid falls in love with a prince, and so she turns to an evil sea witch to give her legs and let her walk on land. The sea witch attempts to foil her plan to marry her prince, but our heroine, The Little Mermaid, wins out in the end. All is happily ever after. But wait — a new YA novel is changing that narrative by giving readers the "evil" sea witch's side of the story, and you definitely don't want to miss this delicious, diabolical tale. Sarah Henning's Sea Witch comes out on July 31, but you can start reading the book below.

The titular sea witch is Evie, a poor fisherman's daughter who has two best friends: Anna and Nik, who people better know as Crown Prince Asger Niklas Bryniulf Øldenburg III of Havnestad. When Anna drowns, Evie is cast out of her small town for being a witch. Four years later, Evie witnesses Nik's near drowning death — and his unexpected rescue at the hands of a mysterious who looks like Anna. That mysterious mermaid then appears in Havnestad as a human named Annemette.

The two girls become close friends, and when Annemette reveals that she cannot stay on two legs and stay in Havnested with the prince she's fallen in love with, Evie vows to help her.

Bustle has an exclusive excerpt from this fairy tale retelling below, so you can start reading before it officially comes out on July 31:

Courtesy of Katherine Tegen Books

Sea Witch by Sarah Henning, $15, Amazon

Chapter One

The sea is a fickle witch.

She is just as likely to bestow a kiss as to steal the breath from your lips. Beautiful and cruel, and every glimmering wrinkle in between. Filling our bellies and our coffers when she is generous. Coolly watching as we don black and add tears to her waters when she is wicked.

Only the tide follows her moods—giving and taking at the same salty rate.

Still, she is more than our witch—she’s our queen.

In all her spells and tantrums, she is one of us. The crown jewel of Havnestad, nuzzled against our shores—for better or worse.

Tonight, dressed in her best party finery, she appears calm, anger buried well below her brilliant surface. Still, there’s a charge in the air as the stars wink with the coming summer solstice and the close of Nik’s sixteenth birthday.

In all her spells and tantrums, she is one of us. The crown jewel of Havnestad, nuzzled against our shores—for better or worse.

Formally: Crown Prince Asger Niklas Bryniulf Øldenburg III, first in line to the throne of the sovereign kingdom of Havnestad.

Informally: just Nik.

But “just Nik” isn’t quite right either. He’s not just anything to me. He’s my best friend. My only friend, really.

And now he’s dancing with Malvina across the deck of his father’s grand steamship. That is, if you can call her violent tossing and whirling dancing. My stomach lurches as Nik comes within inches of tipping over the rail after she forces an overenthusiastic spin. I wish she’d just give it up.

Malvina, formally Komtesse Malvina Christensen, is a perpetual royal suitor. She and her father have been vying for King Asger’s attention for years, hoping he will make the match. Yet despite Nik’s good-natured patience for her dancing, I have my doubts there will be a royal wedding in their future.

I want to look away from the pink silk blur of Malvina, but Nik’s eyes are begging me to rescue him. Pleading. Silently calling my name across the distance — Evvvvvvieee.

I am the only one who can save him. Every youth in town is here, but no one else can cut in on a girl like Malvina. For the others, there would be consequences — lost invitations to galas, the oldest horse on the weekend hunt, a seat at the table next to one’s senile great tante instead of the baroness For me, there are none of those things. You can’t fall far in society if you’re not a member to begin with.

After another aggressive turn, I finally stride onto the makeshift dance floor, ignoring a chorus of smirks as I go—they’ve seen this play before. Malvina will be the victim, I’ll be the villain, and Nik will let it happen. It can be a messy business, being the crown prince’s confidante; enduring small humiliations is only a fraction of the cost. But I won’t apologize for helping him. We all make compromises in friendships, and having Nik’s loyalty when no one else will even look me in the eye is worth every criticism I face.

For me, there are none of those things. You can’t fall far in society if you’re not a member to begin with.

I tap the girl on one sturdy shoulder, screw my face into exaggerated panic, and point to the eight-layered, blue-sugar-spackled monstrosity she insisted on crafting.

“Oh, angels, Evie! What is it?” Malvina barks.

“The cake’s icing—”

“Fondant,” she corrects, as if I’ve spit on her oma’s grave.

“The fondant—it’s bulging.”

True panic colors her features as her feet refuse to move. Torn between dancing with Nik and rescuing her masterpiece from a bulbous fate, her eyes skip to my face for a moment, incredulous. She fears I’ve purposely stolen her turn. It’s just the sort of thing the girls of Havnestad think I would do — the ones whispering in the shadows about us now. Except in this case, they’re right.

“Do your duty, Malvina. It was lovely dancing with you.” Nik bends into a slight bow, royal manners on display, not a hint of displeasure in his features.

When his eyes cut away, Malvina sneaks a glare my way, her disdain for me as clear as her worry that I’m actually telling the truth. She doesn’t need to say what she’s thinking, and she won’t — not if she ever wants to dance with Nik again. So, when Nik completes his bow, she simply plasters on a trained smile and leaves him with the most perfect curtsy before running off in a rush of golden hair and intent.

Now Nik bows deeply to me as if I’m his newest suitor, his mop of black hair briefly obscuring his coal-dark eyes. “May I have the remainder of this dance, my lady?”

My lips curl into a smile as my legs automatically dip into a polite curtsy. My lady. Despite how good those words feel, they’re enough to earn me the ire of everyone on this boat. To them I am just the royal fisherman’s daughter abusing the prince’s kindness, using him for his station. They won’t believe we’re just friends, as we’ve always been, since nappies. Before I knew what I was and he knew who he was meant to be.

“But of course, Crown Prince Niklas,” I reply.

He meets my eyes and we both burst out laughing. Formality has never worn well between us — regardless of Nik’s training.

We settle in and begin to waltz across the deck. He has a good foot on me, but he’s practiced at leaning in — whispers are often our most convenient language.

“Took you long enough,” he says, twirling me through the last bars of the song.

“I wanted to see how long you’d stay dry.”

He gasps with false horror in my ear, a smile tingeing it. “You’d send your own best friend swimming with the mermaids on his birthday?”

“I hear they’re beautiful — not a bad present for a teenage boy.”

“They also prefer their presents not breathing.”

My eyes shoot to his. I can feel the slightest tremble in my jaw. Today would’ve been our friend Anna’s birthday too. It still is, though she is no longer here to celebrate it. She was exactly a year younger than Nik. We’d each had our share of close calls in those days, the great and powerful goddess Urda seeming to want us all for herself. But we lost Anna. I glance down, feeling tears hot against my lash line, even after four years’ time. Nik sighs and tugs a curl off my face. He waits until I finally glance up. There’s a soft smile riding his lips and I know he regrets pulling us from a place of joy to one so fraught. “Well, thank you for saving me, Evie. As always.”

My eyes shoot to his. I can feel the slightest tremble in my jaw. Today would’ve been our friend Anna’s birthday too. It still is, though she is no longer here to celebrate it.

It’s as good a subject change as any, but it’s not enough — and we both know it. I take a deep breath and look over Nik’s shoulder, not trusting myself to say more. I swallow and try to concentrate on the party. Everything here has been borrowed for Nik’s celebration — the ship, the free-flowing hvidtøl, the band, two servants, and a coal man — and it’s beautiful. I focus on the miniature lanterns ringing the deck, the golden thread of my single fancy dress catching their glow.

Suddenly, Malvina hoists herself onto the dessert table, still frantically trying to control the cake’s growing bulge. I expect Nik to laugh, or at least knock out a very royal snort, but instead he’s looking over my shoulder, portside, at the sea. I follow his eyes, and my heart sputters to a stop when I make out a swift schooner, the familiar line of a boy—a man—adjusting the sail.

“Iker . . .” His name kisses my lips in a sigh before I can catch it. I meet Nik’s eyes, a blush crawling up my cheeks. “I didn’t know he was coming.”

“Neither did I.” He shrugs and raises a brow. “But Iker’s not exactly one to confirm an invitation. Missed that day at prince school. The lecture about being on time, too.”

“I believe it’s called ‘fashionably late,’” I say.

“Yes, well, I suppose I wouldn’t know,” Nik says with a laugh.

The little schooner closes in, and I see that it’s only Iker — he hasn’t brought a crew with him from Rigeby Bay — not that I’d expect him to. He’s a weather-worn fisherman trapped in a life designed for silk and caviar. He redirects the mainsail perfectly, his muscles tensing tightly as he aims straight for his cousin’s form.

Nik leans to my ear. “There goes my dancing partner.”

I punch him on the arm. “You don’t know that.”

“True, but I do know how you’ve looked at him since my cake had about ten fewer candles on it.”

I roll my eyes, but I can’t help a smile creeping up my lips. He’s somewhat right, though now isn’t the best time to argue that the way I looked at Iker changed from brotherly to something else entirely about four years ago, not ten.

I clear my throat. “I’m sure Malvina won’t mind—she’s almost finished with your cake,” I say, nodding in the direction of the blue monstrosity but never taking my eyes off Iker as he readies to throw up a line to the steamer.

Nik hugs me close and dips down to my ear. “You’re such a ravishingly loyal friend.”

“Always have been. Always will be.”

“’Tis true.” Nik grins before waving a long arm above his head. “Well, if it isn’t the crown prince of Rigeby Bay!”

“And here, I hoped to surprise you,” Iker says, laughing. “Can’t surprise a lighthouse of a man on his own boat, I suppose.”

Nik laughs, standing even taller. “Not if I’m turned the right way.”

Iker laughs even deeper. There is salt in his hair and few days’ worth of scruff lining his strong jawline, but he strides across his deck with the elegance of a prince. He glances up at me, his eyes briefly betraying a hint of doubt about the sturdiness of my frame, but tosses aboard the line to me anyway. I catch it, securing it with a knot I learned from Father.

Iker hauls himself up the rope and onto the ship. He manages to land on the small patch of deck just between Nik and myself. Behind us a crowd has gathered.

“Happy birthday, Cousin.” Eyes laughing, Iker claps Nik on the back and brings him in for a hug, his toned arms fully encasing Nik’s spindly-yet-strong form.

When they release, Iker’s eyes go right to me. They’re the clearest of blues — like ancient ice in the fjords of the north.

“Evelyn,” he says, still retaining an air of formality from his upbringing, but then shockingly pulls me into a hug.

I freeze, eyes on Nik as he and everyone else on the ship stares. Iker doesn’t seem to notice or care and pulls me tighter, his arms wrapped around my waist. Warm from ship work, he smells of salt and limes. His shirt is freckled with water droplets, onyx on his starched gray shirt—the sea leaving her mark.

When the moment is over and he lets me go, an arm lingers across my shoulders. I try to ignore the question nagging me, the one I’m sure everyone else is asking too. Why me? We’ve known each other since we were children, but he’s never shown me this kind of affection before. I’m not his type. I’m not anyone’s type. Yet, Iker continues to act as if it’s all completely normal. He turns to Nik, to the crowd, and grins that perfect smile.

“Good people of Havnestad,” he says, his voice commanding yet sincere. Then the grin grows wider. “Let’s give the prince a celebration so hearty, he’ll never forget it.”