On remote Rollrock Island, the sea-witch Misskaella discovers she can draw a girl from the heart of a seal. So, for a price, any man might buy himself a bride; an irresistibly enchanting sea-wife. But what cost will be borne by the people of Rollrock - the men, the women, the children - once Misskaella sets her heart on doing such a thing?But this doesn't get to the heard of the story. Sea Hearts is told in several sections from the points of view of different characters. Is spans several generations of Rollrock residents, and one lifetime (Misskaella's). There's a lot to discuss in this novel and I fear my review won't really do it justice.
Misskaella is one of the two characters we spend the most time with. Growing up as a social outcast, mostly because of her dumpiness and strange affinity with seals, Misskaella discovers there's more to her abilities than that. Upon discovering that she can turn seals into beautiful (and docile) women, she sees an opportunity to make the town respect her (and pay her), even if they don't like her. The rest of the novel deals with various ramifications of that decision.
It's not just that a man can pay to get a beautiful wife and prevent her from leaving him by hiding her seal skin, the men are also enchanted by their seal wives, despite previous relationships. The tensions this inevitably causes with the human women of Rollrock, leads to an unusual dynamic on the island. The strength of Lanagan's story telling method in this novel is that it allows us to watch Rollrock change and more and more men take sea wives. And then what happens when the seal wives have been trapped on land too long.
Sea Hearts is a thoughtful read rather than a fast-paced adventure. It is marketed as YA, but aside from having mostly young point of view characters, I wouldn't say it deals with uniquely teenage problems; it's a story for readers of all ages. I highly recommend Sea Hearts to all fantasy fans.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: 2012 Allen & Unwin (titled The Brides of Rollrock Island in the US/UK)
Format read: Real paper book
Source: Purchased from a real Australian bookshop (Dymocks, I think)
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge