Black mermaid looking up at the surface and swimming in front of whales. One of the covers for "The Deep." Image: Simon & Schuster

8+ Magical Books About Black Mermaids and Water Creatures

These will "tide" you over until 'The Little Mermaid' drops

While many are very excited about the upcoming live-action The Little Mermaid (starring singer/actress Halle Bailey), others have incorrectly attributed the idea of mermaids (like elves, hobbits, and more) as creatures belonging exclusively to those of north European ancestry. Though Disney took elements of Hans Christian Andersen’s story (albeit with less gore)—and that story has roots in Scandinavia, mermaids and other very similar creatures have existed for much longer. And all over the world.

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Despite this ‘concern’ boiling down to people just looking for any reason to thinly veil their racism, many have used this to start a conversation about mermaids as folklore and fable the world over. Almost a year ago, in an article for Tor, one of the authors on this list, Natasha Bowen, wrote about how, despite the American understanding of mermaids being shaped by a very Eurocentric lens (even before Disney’s take), the role of water (especially ocean) people (down to the attributes of fish-like qualities) can be found across the globe. Many of the places she cites are direct inspirations for some of these stories below.

Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen

"Skin of the Sea" by Natasha Bowen. (Image: Random House for Young Readers.)
(Random House for Young Readers)

Simi’s duty is to collect the souls of those who drown at sea and bless their treks back to their homeland. But after finding a young boy thrown overboard is still alive, she breaks this mermaid code and saves his life. This leads to a summoning by the Supreme Creator, in which Simi learns the person she saved is already connected to their world. This YA historical fantasy (included in an edition of The Mary Sue Book Club) is the first in a series, with the second book, Soul of the Deep, releasing on September 27.

Sirens’s Call (Trilogy) by Jessica Call

Sirens’s Call by Jessica Call. Image: Caged Fantasies Publications, LLC.
(Caged Fantasies Publications, LLC)

A mermaid adventure that truly hits the ground running, this book follows Synrinada, a daughter of a siren and warlock. She’s not supposed to exist, and a dark family lineage is doing everything in their power to prevent her from continuing to live. Her longtime friend, Malachi, helps her process everything, but Synrinada begins to mistrust him as she realizes he knows more than he’s letting on. Adding to this tension is her urge to ignore his advice to keep a low profile. Instead, she wants to learn more about her heritage in an increasingly dangerous world.

The Deep by Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, and William Hutson

The Deep by Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, and William Hutson. Image: Gallery / Saga Press
(Gallery / Saga Press)

While a physically little book, this is one you don’t want to take lightly as it is one of the more heavy books on this list. Written by a trio of authors, The Deep follows a mermaid, Yetu, carrying the memories of her people so that they can continue. Her people come from the pregnant women thrown overboard in the Atlantic Ocean during the Atlantic Slave Trade. By bearing this weight, her people can live free from harm, but this is weighing down on Yetu. This novel is light on the narrative and more like a process of feeling everything Yetu is and imagining what could be.

Trouble the Waters: Tales From the Deep Blue edited by Sheree Renée Thomas, Pan Morrigan, and Troy L. Wiggins

Trouble the Waters: Tales from the Deep Blue edited by Sheree Renée Thomas, Pan Morrigan, and Troy L. Wiggins (Image: Third Man Books.)
(Third Man Books)

In the introduction of this book, Sheree Renée Thomas writes that this collection of short stories was inspired by Linda D. Addison’s 2005 performance Mami Wata, Goddess of Clear Blue at the World Horror Convention, Hurricane Katrina, and a special exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art entitled Mami Wata. Together with Pan Morrigan and Troy L. Wiggins, they created this anthology of speculative fiction connected by water. Spanning Africa, Europe, and North America, these stories explore the magic of water and the creatures (including mermaids) that lurk below the surface.

Mother of the Sea by Zetta Elliott

Mother of the Sea by Zetta Elliott. Image: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform.
(Createspace Independent Publishing Platform)

After her village is raided, a young woman is then enslaved. While heading towards what the readers recognize as the Americas, the woman finds an ounce of comfort as she consoles a younger child on the cargo ship. That small comfort is disrupted as the child she consoles tells her that her mother is coming to claim everyone on the ship. This YA novelette is inspired by the real history of the Middle Passage and Yoruba folklore.

A Song Below Water: A Novel by Bethany C. Morrow

Book cover for A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
(Tor Teen)

Before the siren murder trial that captured national attention, Tavia was doing her best to hide her siren powers, and her best friend Effie was battling demons at home. However, since the fallout of the trial and Tavia’s slip-up, their home in Portland feels less safe than before. (While I understand sirens are not mermaids, this still has oceanic vibes, and mermaids are still a significant part of the story. I just can’t say how because of spoilers.)

The Perfect Waters (Trilogy) by LeeSha McCoy

The Perfect Waters (Trilogy) by LeeSha McCoy. Image: LeeSha McCoy.
(LeeSha McCoy)

Sometimes just referred to as Odessa, McCoy’s The Perfect Waters Book One is the first in a paranormal fantasy trilogy. The first novel follows a lab tech, Odessa, experiencing strange experiences after a night out with her friends—like waking up with body parts lost. She will soon find out that she’s the heir in a line of mermaid royalty and be called to duty.

Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales by Virginia Hamilton

Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales by Virginia Hamilton. Image: Blue Sky Press.
(Blue Sky Press)

So, normally we stick to YA and adult books for general booklists, but these illustrations (just like Sukey and The Mermaid by Robert D. San Souci, Illustrated by Brian Pinkney) were too irresistible not to include. Her Stories feature African American stories that blend truth and fiction in a series of fables and fairy tales. The story most relevant to this list is the story of Mary Belle and The Mermaid. A young girl finds solace in a friendship with a local mermaid when she escapes from her horrid family.

If you love mermaid books, I’d wager you’d be interested in a story of pirates, too.
Check out this list of pirate books here!

(featured image: Simon & Schuster)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.