Top positive review
38 people found this helpful
on July 3, 2002
One of Patricia McKillip's lesser-known works, "Changeling Sea" is reminiscent of her rare short novel "Something Rich and Strange," as both deal with the sea and its pull on human beings. Thankfully this book will soon be reprinted by the excellent imprint Firebird books; it's an enchanting short novel full of vivid images and characters.
Peri's father was drowned, and her mother lives half in a dream world. Peri herself scrubs floors for a living, and remains embittered against the sea that stole her parents both in body and in mind. One night as she is weaving hexes to cast into the sea, she encounters Kir, a young prince with an obsessive longing for the sea. He asks her to put a mysterious message in with her hexes, and she agrees. A sea-dragon with a gold chain around its neck surfaces not long after she tosses the hexes into the ocean, and a passing mage named Lyo tries to take the chain for the fishermen -- except he accidently turns it into hundreds of tiny flowers.
Soon strange things begin to surface from the sea, just after Kir and his father leave for a distant island. Peri encounters the sea dragon pulling itself onto the land, and sees it transform into a naked young man who strongly resembles Kir. A years-old web of magic, love, revenge, and sea-longing must be unraveled before Kir can find peace, and Peri can find love.
One of the enchanting things about Patricia McKillip's novels is their simplicity. Though we have some of the essential trappings of typical fantasy -- wizards, dragons, mermaids, kings and princes and plenty of magic -- they are used in a very diffeent manner than most readers will be used to. The plotline is deceptively simple, and has the feeling of being far more complex than it is. Several plot elements can be guessed ahead of time, but this does not detract from the storyline.
As always, her prose is full of magic; the descriptions are lush and beautiful, even the descriptions of the sea-dragon. In such cases as the description of the sea-lady, they are exceptional, even for McKillip. At the same time, this dreaminess is balanced out by the homey atmosphere of the inn where Peri works. The dialogue ranges from poetic, almost songlike, to chummy and amusing.
Peri is an unusual heroine: she isn't pretty, sweet-natured, powerful, or anything unusual but kind and angsty. McKillip repeatedly emphasizes that, unlike Cinderella, Snow White or similar floor-scrubbing protagonists, Peri has calloused knees, perpetually messy hair, and a nose that she perceives as being too big. Yet she is entrancing to some of the male characters, and respected by all of them. Lyo is reminiscent of the "Riddlemaster" character Rood, with his offputting wit and uncanny clear sight. Kir drips angst and unhappiness, especially since he seems unable to love anything or anyone on the land. The unnamed sea-dragon/youth is almost babylike in his trust and eagerness to learn.
"Changeling Sea" is an exceptional story, full of magic, romance, and a small cast of exceptionally-developed characters. One of the finest fantasies out there, and one that should be read the moment it is reprinted.