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The Brides of Rollrock Island Hardcover – September 11, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up-Misskaella Prout, the baby of the family, was born on a craggy, seal-covered island, when "there were no looks left for Prout girls." She is resentful of the boys who can't see past her lumpish form, and when she discovers she has a magical ability to cause human figures to step out of the bodies of seals, she calls forth a lover and finds herself with child. Over the years, she draws forth beautiful black-haired women, bought for a dear price by island men eager for wives. Now known as a witch, she can afford to buy the biggest house on the island, but finds herself no closer to happiness. The seal coats are hidden away, trapping the selkies in human form, where they create discontented families and bear half-enchanted sons. The story follows several generations, primarily those of Misskaella (who ages very slowly) and the Mallett family. When several sons unite to steal back the seal coats, the mams weave seaweed blankets and wrap their sons, so all can transform into seals together, leaving the human men behind. The men are not all bad, and one of them wonders occasionally why the women don't take a bit more charge of their own fate. Lanagan's writing is undeniably gorgeous. Her phrases and pacing almost demand that readers stop and admire their beauty. Many high school readers may not be ready to look past a plot of lumpen, unpopular misfits, and dark choices wrongly made. Encourage them to read for the richness of the language, and they may find the plot will grow on them. A natural audience would be readers who enjoyed the literary qualities of Christina Meldrum's Madapple (Knopf, 2008), Franny Billingsley's Chime (Dial, 2010), and E. Annie Proulx's The Shipping News (Scribner, 1999).-Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TXα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Publishers Weekly Best of Children's Books 2012

Kirkus Reviews Best of Teen's Books 2012, September 1, 2012:

"I've not been more moved by a book in years...It’s a wistful book, but wondrous. It will break your heart, and remake it.”

Starred Review, Booklist, June 1, 2012:

"A haunting, masterfully crafted novel that, as one should by now expect from Lanagan, isn’t a bit like anything else."

Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2012:
"Bracing, powerful, resonant. . . . Earthy, vigorous characters and prose ground the narrative in the world we know, yet its themes are deep as the sea."

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, July 2, 2012:
"Powerful. . . . A beautifully written story featuring a thoroughly realized setting and cast."

Starred Review, The Horn Book, September/October 2012:
"Lanagan’s world is busily, passionately alive. Seal, human, sea, sky, and the rocks themselves animate this powerful story, a blend of folk tale and pungent, sharply observed—or invented—regionality."

Starred Review, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September 2012:
"Like Lanagan’s previous Tender Morsels, this eerie, evocative story breathes mesmerizing life into familiar fairy-tale constructs as it explores issues of power, agency, culpability, freedom, and love within a deceptively quiet atmosphere of intimate horror."

School Library Journal, September 2012:
"Lanagan’s writing is undeniably gorgeous. Her phrases and pacing almost demand that readers stop and admire their beauty...A natural audience would be readers who enjoyed the literary qualities of Christina Meldrum’s Madapple, Franny Billingsley’s Chime, and E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News."

"I am in thrall to Margo Lanagan's voice. This is a marvelous book, full of magic and cunning." ―Kelly Link, award-winning author of Stranger Things Happen, and founder of Small Beer Press
"Margo Lanagan's writing is dangerously beautiful; it knows how to dance, and it knows how to fight." ―Mal Peet, winner of the Carnegie Medal for Tamar
"A brilliantly written and fascinating novel from the weird but wonderful mind of Margo Lanagan." ―Garth Nix, bestselling author of the Old Kingdom Chronicles
"Breathtaking. Margo Lanagan raises the bar with every story she tells." ―Melina Marchetta, winner of the Printz Award for Jellicoe Road

"Shadow Scale" by Rachel Hartman
Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny? See more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (September 11, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375869190
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375869198
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #716,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

It was a good read, a bit long winded towards the end.
Mary C.- R.
I must say, right off the bat, that Lanagan is one of the best writers I've encountered in recent years and that this book is probably one of the best books I've read.
The writing is incredibly beautiful and haunting; the story explores human nature and has a very melancholy, fairy tale type tone to it.
K. Eckert

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By @Julia_ATUF on September 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Review courtesy of All Things Urban Fantasy.

I often describe urban fantasy novels as "dark" when there's violence and pain, loss and mourning. THE BRIDES OF ROLLROCK ISLAND is wrapped in gossamer strands of darkness so pervasive, so heartbreaking and real, I need a new word to evoke the pain of these characters. Lanagan explores the mythology of the seal-wife, a woman taken from the sea and kept by hiding her seal pelt. Through generations, through many different eyes, she writes a first hand view of human cruelty and petty betrayal, of a community imploding in on itself.

This book explores an aspect of human relationships that I'd rather not delve into, the hunger a man can feel for a compliant, nubile girl. The seal-brides of Rollrock are chillingly childlike in their lack of agency, passive and plaintive and wishing for the sea. The writing is beautiful, chronicling each fissure in the bleak little village. Magic as horror, a legacy of heartbreak and otherness in the bloodlines of the village... there's no way I can do justice to how thoroughly Lanagan ensnared me in her net. I was angry and disgusted and sad and mesmerized, I could not look away.

I had to force myself to finish this book, but I am glad that I did. Lanagan doesn't flinch from the horror of her seal-brides, the petty selfishness of enthrallment and love, and it is just that unblinking gaze through the generations that elevates this story from a painful exercise to a very realistic and human story. I loved the frailty of Lanagan's seal-wives. She gives her mythology a loose genetics, where seal mothers impart wildness to their daughters with their X chromosome but the fathers' Y keeps their sons anchored to the shore.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By K. Eckert TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I got a copy of this to review through NetGalley(dot)com. This was an absolutely wonderful book and now I want to go read everything else Margo Lanagan has written. The writing is beautiful and haunting and absolutely engrossing.

This is a series of short stories about the people who live on Rollrock Island. Misskaella is an ugly and fat girl who is treated cruelly by the people of Rollrock island. That is until the night Misskaella realizes that she can call out women from inside the seals of the island. The seal wives are beautiful beyond compare and the men of Rollrock will do anything to have a seal wife; but the seal wives are also eternally miserable as they as they are stuck in their human bodies. The men control the wives, but are in turn bespelled by the seal wives. This is the story of all of the years that Misskaella kept Rollrock island under the sad curse of the sea wives.

The prose this book is written in is absolutely stunning and the stories have a very dark and melancholy fairy tale feel to them. The descriptions are so well done that you can almost taste the sea as you read this book. The characters are amazing; they can show incredible love for each other and also be incredibly cruel. It was interesting to have a story that explores both depths of human emotion so deeply.

Misskaella is a fascinating character. In the beginning you really hurt for her, everyone is so cruel to her even as a child. Eventually she turns into what they believe her to be an ugly, mean witch. All of the characters in the stories are fascinating in similar ways. The men of the island love their seal wives so deeply, yet these same men are so cruel in how they keep their wives from the sea.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By H Waterhouse on February 4, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Selkies really are the ultimate mail-order brides, aren't they?

There they are, in a strange land, trapped into a marriage, with only their domestic duties and their children to comfort them.

I hesitate to call this book a story -- it is not narrative in the classical sense, with a rising and falling pattern of action. Instead it is sequentially episodic. Here is where she teaches herself to be a witch. Here is where he makes a bad decision. Here is the perpetuation of the cycle. Nothing is resolved or changed between the beginning and the end of the book, except that a whole lot of people lead lives of frantic desperation.

Which is not to say the book is without merit. I enjoyed it, and found it compelling.
"I had been ugly once; I must remember that, remember how to be ugly again now that I knew I was beautiful, remember how to be ordinary now that I'd seen the wonders inside me."

"power welled up in me like tears, and was held in check as tears must be held, for this business must be done right."

It could be read as a meditation on the cycles of abuse and poverty, or about the weird spaces that sex selection leaves, or a number of other things, but I think it's also true and valid that it is a tragedy of desire, and like all tragedies, it's not going to be easy to break out of it.

Read if: You like thoughtful, evocative books. You are ok with dire.

Skip if: You were really hoping for a plot. Women in servitude is going to crawl right up your nose.

Also read: Far From the Madding Crowd, in case you need more of tragic inevitability.
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