‘People are uneasy enough with me – if I start bringing up sea-wives, they’ll take against me good and proper.’
‘It could be a secret.’
As a child Misskaella knows she is different from her sisters and the other children of Rollrock Island, but she is surprised when she looks at a seal and realises there is a woman trapped inside – a woman only Misskaella can draw out. Tired of being poor and alone, Misskaella agrees to draw a bride for a lonely man, and soon the sea witch has a string of customers. But what will happen to the people of Rollrock when more and more men seek sea-wives?
Sea Hearts is a stunning novel from the queen of speculative fiction, Margo Lanagan. Taking inspiration from the Scottish legends of the Selkie, seals which take human form on land by shedding their skins, this tale gives the sea-witch the power to draw the women (and men, too, when she chooses) from the seals who visit the island. What makes the story particularly powerful is Lanagan’s use of multiple perspectives, allowing the reader into the lives and minds of a range of players.
Misskaella is introduced as a witch scaring children on the beach in the opening chapter, before we are shown her unhappy childhood and teen years, and the events which lead to her first using her power, which she has kept under control for many years by wearing a fabric cross on her body. We are also shown the perspective of some of the men who choose to take sea-wives and of the children of these unions, as well as some of the human women affected by these events. What could be a tale of good versus evil, or right versus wrong becomes thus much richer and more complex, with our sympathies ebbing and flowing like the dangerous tides which surround Rollrock island.
This is a complex, haunting fairytale which sings to the reader, and will appeal to mature teens and adult readers alike. Simply stunning.
Sea Hearts, by Margo Lanagan
Allen & Unwin, 2012
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