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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.
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on April 12, 2003
Despite the age reccomendations on this book (9 to 12), McKillip's story is a wonderful fairy tale for any reader, as are all of her other works.
The Changling Sea is an excellent combination of fantasy and reality - the balance of hard working villagers and magical beings from another world make this story not only enchanting, but lovely in its realism.
Fans of McKillip will of course love this story. For children and adults who have never read her: this is a great place to start.
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on April 26, 2001
No matter the age of the reader, Patricia McKillip has always astounded with her power to draw us into her intricately crafted worlds seemingly without conscious effort. Her prose, always beautiful, paints such gorgeous pictures in our heads that it is impossible not to be engaged as soon as we pick up the page.
The Changeling Sea follows the life of a small young woman named Periwinkle (but everyone just calls her Peri) as she deals with the realities of a father taken by the sea and a mother who does nothing but grieve for him. From the very start, introduced to this unlikely heroine as she scrubs floors at a local Inn, we cannot help but be charmed by her. Even better, as the tale goes on, despite her lack of concern for what others think, this woman not only catches two princes but also becomes the focal point in a web of intrigue, mystery, enchantment, and power. That she ends up finding new resources of power within herself intrigues and delights us; for a change, and unlike most fairytale characters, this girl is neither beautiful nor classically sweet, and yet she still ends up with a happy ending.
Despite its age, this classic will never grow old. I recommend it to anyone, as a great intro to fantasy and as an evocative fairy tale that bends the definitions in enchanting new ways.
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on June 3, 2005
The Changeling Sea is a truly beautiful book to read. It is only 160 or so pages and can be read in about 2 hours, but the story will stay with you for a long time afterwards. It is told from the point of view of Periwinkle, or Peri, a poor fisher's daughter. Her father was lost one day in his boat and her mother sits by the window all day, looking out at the sea. Peri works at the inn and lives in the house of an old woman who taught her spells and hexes and then vanished one day.

Peri's life is fairly boring until one day she sees a dark horseman down by the sea at night. The next day, she meets the prince, Kir, at the old woman's cottage. She realizes that he was the horseman and he tells her that he used to talk to the old woman too. She tells him that she wants to hex the sea for stealing both of her parents and he asks her to deliver a message for him when she does. The message is a ring with the king's initials in it and several locks of hair. Peri is curious, but she does tie the message to one of her hexes when she throws them into the sea with a curse. Suddenly, she sees a great golden dragon rise out of the sea in front of her with a gigantic golden chain around its neck. She is naturally frightened and tries to get away.

The next day all of the fisher folk are talking about the dragon; they want the gold chain. That much gold would be enough to make them all rich, they say. Soon strange things begin to happen to the fishermen though. They are caught in strange fogs, and see mermaids where others see only fish or sharks. Confused and scared, they decide to get a magician to take the gold chain off for them. Some phony magicians come and go, and then one day, Peri meets Lyo. He slips on her newly sponged floor and washes to a halt right under her nose. She can see the magic in his strange color-shifting eyes, and becomes convinced when he dries himself off with a wave of his hand.

When Lyo understands what they want him to do, he asks Peri to row him out in her father's boat. They reach the dragon and Lyo sings him children's songs until he can get close enough. Then he takes the chain off. But before anything else happens, the chain turns into periwinkles and Lyo vanishes.

Meanwhile, Kir has told his secret to Peri as they become closer. He thinks his mother lives in the land under the sea. He wants to go back, but the sea won't let him in.

One night, Peri stands at the shore and wishes aloud that Kir were "a little more human." The next thing she knows, the sea dragon comes ashore and turns into a man at her feet. He doesn't know many words, so Peri begins to teach him. Meanwhile, Lyo has somehow found out what is really behind Kir and the sea dragon and the gold chain, at least partially, and is trying to help them all.

Eventually, Lyo tells the king what his son really is, and brings him to Peri's cottage where he meets his other son. As it turns out, the king knew Kir's mother before he married and had a son. Somehow at birth, the two sons were changed. Kir was brought onto land, and the other was taken under the sea and chained. Kir is becoming more and more desperate, so they agree on a final course of action. I won't give the ending away, but Peri discovers an unknown talent, the fishermen get their gold, Kir gets back where he belongs and so does the sea dragon, now called Aidon.

The romance in this book is very sweet and, in some cases, unexpected. It was a beautiful, but bittersweet book to read, like many of McKillip's are. I thought the writing was great and the characters were really well developed, even at 160 pages. It had that familiar dream-like quality, but it did have a pretty happy ending. I would recommend this book to everyone. This is one of my favorite books ever; it will bring a tear to your eyes and a smile to your face. Go read it!
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To begin with, the main character, Peri, is not really a Cinderella. She may scrub floors, but Ms. McKillip uses Periwinkle to draw her readers into the story. She is so ordinary and so natural, that readers can easily identify with her. And in the end when she turns out to possess a special magic within herself, readers feel a little more special as well. After having fallen in love with the unreachable sea prince, she neither "lives happily ever after" nor dies as a star crossed lover. Instead she goes on to discover that princes aren't the only catches worth landing. This novel is not only fascinating to read, but it provides a setting for self discovery as well. The style is appropriate for any age of self discoverer.
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on July 22, 1999
A magical, moving, and completely original story, peopled with quirkily charming characters. Unlike most fantasy novels, this isn't about wielding swords and spells to save the world, but about the power and wonder of both magic and human relationships. Peri is a likable, offbeat heroine, and the choice she makes regarding the three men who come into her life, the magician, the prince, and the sea dragon, is believable and heartwarming. All the characters, even the most minor ones, have their own lives and agendas, bringing to life the vividly imagined setting of a fishing village on the edge of enchantment. Dialogue is sometimes poetic, sometimes funny, but always well-phrased. The balance in this book between the little moments of daily life and the beauty of magic and feeling reminded me of movies like The Secret Garden and John Sayles' The Secret of Roan Inish.
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on December 30, 2015
Periwinkle’s father disappeared in his little row boat out to sea, an event which also caused her mother to lose both heart and mind to the sea. Though only a maid at the local inn, Peri decides to try hexing the sea using what she remembers from the elderly witch who abandoned the cottage she now inhabits. But that night Peri is met by a tragic prince who appears with his own wishes. In casting their hex, the two expose a lonely sea monster chained to the bottom of the ocean by giant golden links. While the villagers are obsessed with getting the gold from the sea monster, Peri and a clever magician named Lyo would rather understand the creature itself. Why does it suddenly transform into a young man each night and walk up to Peri’s door, eager to learn the words for the world outside the water and the images he’s seen within it? Filled with the type of magic and beautiful language only this master fantasy-writer could create, The Changeling Sea is a captivating fog of fantasy. For a themed cupcake recipe, similar book recommendations, and discussion questions, visit:
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on October 12, 2015
Oh, I had forgotten how beautiful Ms. McKillip's writing is.

Reading this book made me feel like I was a little girl again, reading a fairytale. The sense of wonder and yearning and impossible odds, just beautiful. And the writing! I was hi-lighting almost every other paragraph by the end. Plus we have sea monsters! just doesn't get any better than this :)

The story is clean.
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on February 27, 2006
I am so glad they reprinted this book. For years it was out of print and incredibly hard to find.

I found this book when I was in 5th grade, and read my copy till it fell apart. If I had a spare day, I would just sit down and read it, wrapping myself in its words like a warm blanket. I still read it once a year.

This book really saved me as a kid. It taught me that even though I was young, and poor, and hurting, I had the world at my feet. It gave me the courage to stand up and take on the world.
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VINE VOICEon June 18, 2010
It's no secret that Patricia McKillip is a most beloved author for so many fantasy readers. I discovered her late in the game, when I ran across a beautiful reissued omnibus edition of Riddle-Master Trilogy in a Barnes & Noble several years ago. After finishing that excellent trilogy, I went looking for any other McKillip books I could get my hands on. The result was a binge, of sorts, in which I blew through six or seven titles without a by-your-leave. And it was an immensely good time. But it did result in a little bit of fatigue, as her writing style is very specific and lyrical and I wound up needing to cleanse my palate a little after. Since then I've re-read a few of my favorites here and there, particularly the Riddle-Master and The Book of Atrix Wolfe, but not since The Tower at Stony Wood's release have I picked up one of her new ones. While I was perusing the McKillip section on my shelves the other night, the slender little volume THE CHANGELING SEA caught my eye and I got to thinking it might be time to get back on the McKillip wagon. Originally published in 1988, this young adult fantasy has stood the test of time. Firebird put out the pretty little edition pictured on the right in 2003 and, having worked hard to find my own used copy, I was happy to see new life breathed into it. I also think it's the most accurate artistic representation of Peri herself and the spiraling, mesmerizing tone of the novel.

Nobody ever really noticed Periwinkle. She and her small family have always been a bit on their own, quietly living out their lives in their sleepy fishing village. And then the year she turns fifteen, Peri is suddenly really and truly alone for the first time in her young life. It seems the sea has taken everything that she loves. First her father who drowned and now her mother who failed to get over her father's death to the point where she no longer talks to Peri at all. And so Peri spends her days working as a chamber maid, scrubbing floors at the local inn, and her nights trying desperately to curse the sea that's been the source of all her sorrow. Magic has always been a part of Peri's world, though it's never made itself known with quite such a presence as it does the day the King arrives in town with his son Prince Kir. The unhappy prince has a problem that plagues him, a problem he hopes Peri may be able to help him with. If she will just include something of his in her latest curse, perhaps the longing that rides him will abate. Neither of them expect the sea monster who rises as a result. A sea monster bound by a golden chain and from that point on, nothing is the same in Peri's life, and it is with gratitude she accepts the help of the wizard Lyo--a sort of local wise man. Between the four of them--the girl, the prince, the wizard, and the dragon--they piece together the mystery of what happened in that same place so many years ago and why it's rearing its ugly head now.

I loved Peri instantly and without reserve. From the very first page, she is not your classic fairy tale heroine. The opening lines:


No one really knew where Peri lived the year after the sea took her father and cast his boat, shrouded in a tangle of fishing net, like an empty shell back onto the beach. She came home when she chose to, sat at her mother's hearth without talking, brooding sullenly at the small, quiet house with the glass floats her father had found, colored bubbles of light, still lying on the dusty windowsill, and the same crazy quilt he had slept under still on the bed, and the door open on quiet evenings to the same view of the village and the harbor with the fishing boats homing in on the incoming tide. Sometimes her mother would rouse herself and cook; sometimes Peri would eat, sometimes she wouldn't. She hated the vague, lost expression on her mother's face, her weary movements. Her hair had begun to gray; she never smiled, she never sang. The sea, it seemed to Peri, had taken her mother as well as her father, and left some stranger wandering despairingly among her cooking pots.


She is not beautiful or poised or charming or sweet. But she is kind and determined and involved in unraveling the mystery from beginning to end. She earns the trust of the men around her before (if) she earns their love and we (and they) are frequently reminded of her flaws, from scraped knees to a nose on the large side. Urchin from top to bottom, it is most definitely what's inside that matters with this girl. And it matters quite a lot as so many come to depend on her, including the unusual and wondrous creature from the sea who is himself not exactly what he seems. As is always the case with a McKillip tale, the poetic language and gracefully interwoven magic lend a golden glow to the whole. At the same time, this is one of her more "real" stories. Peri is so real. Cloaked in the unreal and unbelievable elements around her, she remains focused and bright. Clocking in at a scant 144 pages, it is also a prime (and all-too- rare) example of a book I don't wish longer. It's perfect just as it is, especially the ending. The briefness only accentuates the sweetness and strangeness and I never fail to finish it at ease with my world and hers.
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