Title: The Changeling Sea

Author: Patricia A. McKillip

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Young Adult

Publisher: Firebird
Publication Date: October 1988
Paperback: 144 Pages

Since the day her father’s fishing boat returned without him, Peri and her mother have mourned his loss. Her mother sinks into a deep depression and spends her days gazing out at the sea. Unable to control her anger and sadness any longer, Peri uses the small magic she knows to hex the sea. And suddenly into her drab life come the King’s sons-changelings with strange ties to the underwater kingdom-a young magician, and, finally, love.

Stand alone or series: Standalone novel

How did I get this book: Bought

Why did I read this book: After reading and loving The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye last week, I wanted to keep the childhood favorite fairy tale/fantasy books coming. Then, I saw this beautiful little book from one of my new favorite authors, Patricia McKillip, hidden on my TBR. I knew had found my next read.

Review:

In a small fishing village on the coast of the wide, stormy sea, a bright-eyed young woman named Periwinkle makes her home. After her father, a fisherman, rows out his ship and never returns, Peri’s mother lapses into quiet despair, forgetting to talk and always staring out at the roiling sea and fantasizing about the people that live in its depths. Without her parents to watch over her or remind her to do things like brush her hair or hem her clothes, Peri grows from a quiet child to a wild and somewhat neglected young woman – her hair always a tangle, her dresses bleached of all color, too tight in some places, too loose in others. Even the old wise woman who used to brush Peri’s hair in her small cottage disappears one day, leaving Peri without anyone to care for her at all. During the day, she works at the local inn, scrubbing floors and cleaning rooms; by night, she returns to the old woman’s cottage and makes her own isolated home where she plots her revenge against the sea. Hateful of the ocean that has taken both of her parents away, Peri crafts three crude hexes to curse the sea – it is here that she meets Prince Kir, who also knew the wise woman and years for her counsel. Kir has deep troubles of his own, also connected to the watery depths, and hopes that Peri can help him make his peace with the ocean that haunts his every waking moment. When Peri finishes her hexes and throws them deep into the great water, she also includes an offering from Kir – and to Peri’s great astonishment, her hexes start to work.

A great sea dragon starts to appear amongst the fishermen’s boats on the sea, with an impossibly large gold chain around its neck. Then, a magician comes to town, promising that he will be able to remove the chain and give the gold to the villagers – for a price. And most importantly, Kir’s dreams of the sea grow more fevered and frantic, as his own unknown, hidden past catches up to him. And it is all up to Periwinkle to set everything back to rights.

To date, I’ve only read a handful of books and short stories from Patricia McKillip, mostly her recent releases. The Changeling Sea, however, is one of McKillip’s earlier works, originally published in the 1980s and instantly endeared itself to me – a changeling fable that takes place by the stormy sea? What better place to jump into McKillip’s rich and extensive backlist? And you know what? I absolutely loved this book. Shortly put: The Changeling Sea is another gorgeous, wonderful book from the incredibly talented McKillip.

I’m going to say something that sounds incredibly cheesy, but it is so very true: Patricia McKillip has a way with words that is simply magical. Like The Bell at Sealey Head or The Bards of Bone Plain, The Changeling Sea is a slender book, but one written with lush and evocative prose that is as beautiful as it is simple. For example:

A sigh, smelling of shrimp and seaweed, wafted over the water… In the deep waters beyond the stones, a great flaming sea-thing gazed back at her, big as a house or two, its mouth a strainer like the mouth of a baleen whale, its translucent fiery streamers coiling and uncoiling languorously in the warm waters. The brow fins over its wide eyes gave it a surprised expression. Around its neck, like a dog collar, was a massive chain of pure gold.

Beautiful, no? Such is McKillip’s writing, littered throughout with these gleaming gems of description and story.

Love and anger are like land and sea: They meet at many different places.

As the title suggests, The Changeling Sea is a fable about a changeling, and a story whose heart is inextricably tied to the sea. It’s a book about love – no, scratch that. It’s actually a book about yearning for what once was, and what can never be again. It’s the book of a King that yearns for the beauty of the sea queen in all her splendor, the story of two brothers crossed at birth that yearn for their true homes on sea and on land. It’s the story of a wild haired, barefooted fisherman’s daughter that dares hex the spiteful sea, and yearns for the love of one that can never return it. Aren’t these some of the best of all? These stories of want and hate and love, all jumbled up into one powerful package of emotion?

And then there are the characters! Periwinkle, our heroine, is a pinched and angry character at first, who scowls at the ocean but refuses to leave its shores despite her hate. She’s bold and wild, who cares little about the conventions that bind others – she doesn’t have secret dreams of catching the prince’s eye like the other girls who work at the inn, and she doesn’t pay attention to her clothes or her hair. She’s smart but rough around the edges, passionate but obstinate – and for all that, a character you cannot help but love, flaws and all. There is the tortured Kir, who is…well, defined by his yearning for the ocean and his feeling that he does not belong on dry land. There’s also the sea dragon himself, who is not at all what he seems, and a king that has made mistakes in his past but loves his children and lovers dearly. But for all that, my other favorite character in this beautiful little book is Lyo – the canny magician, with his smiling face and his penchant for twisting magic in delightful, unexpected ways.

All in all, I loved The Changeling Sea, and absolutely recommend it. I cannot wait to try more of Patricia McKillip’s work – now, any suggestions on where to go next?

Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:

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.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

Reading Next: The Twelve by Justin Cronin

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18 Responses to Book Review: The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip

  1. de Pizan says:

    I agree about McKillip’s writing, it’s beautiful and has this odd (in a good way) kind of dreamy feel to it. My favorite by her is the first I read, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. There’s something endearing and understandable about the main character in that one, although she’s very misanthropic and similarly bent on vengeance. Plus, telepathic magical animals. Also good are In the Forests of Serre and The Winter Rose. Her Riddle-Master series is probably her best known, but I was never able to get into that one.

  2. Andrea says:

    I’ll second The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. An old favourite of mine.

  3. Lexi says:

    I adore the Riddle Master of Hed and would recommend it. My other two favorites are In the Forest of Serre, and Song for the Basilisk.

  4. The Changeling Sea remains one of my very favorite books.

  5. Estara says:

    Riddlemaster of Hed is my absolute favourite (and should be made into a movie series – and, compared to Middle-Earth, I want to live there!), but I also really liked The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.

    But for family, friends, enigmatic bromance, female friendship celebration, competent women, women that are as powerful as their possible love interests, riddles, …. well: Riddlemaster.

  6. Charlotte says:

    I’m thinking you should maybe try The Riddlemaster of Hed series next…but I also love The Alphabet of Thorn, and her Cygnet duology….

  7. Victoria says:

    The Riddlemaster of Hed is one of my absolute favourites. I seem to have missed The Changeling Sea, though, which means I have something to look forward to! I also like “Song for the Basilisk” and “In the Forest of Serre” — the descriptions of the firebird are so beautiful. I know you’ve already read it but “The Bell at Sealy Head” is a favourite too.

  8. Sheila says:

    I always found Riddlemaster different from her other books and not as enjoyable. YMMV of course! Changeling Sea is still one of my very favorite books ever. I also love Forgotten Beasts of Eld and Alphabet of Thorn and Winter Rose. Really, you can’t go wrong with McKillip.

  9. The Riddlemaster trilogy IS different from McKillip’s later work; it’s not as much a fairy tale and more an adventure. I love it passionately, though. No one else is recommending THE BOOK OF ATRIX WOLFE? That one is as close to perfect as any book I’ve ever read!

  10. hapax says:

    Add my vote for THE FORGOTTEN BEASTS OF ELD. It’s fierce and wild and wondrous and as beautiful as heartbreak.

    I am torn about the RIDDLEMASTER series. They remind me a lot of Meredith Pierce’s DARKANGEL trilogy: each individual component is perfect, but when you put them all together they rub my reading nerves raw.

  11. Angie says:

    I adore this little volume. I’m so glad it found its way to you.

    And you must read The Riddlemaster trilogy next. That is what you must do, Thea.

  12. Heidi says:

    Angie’s been pushing The Riddlemaster trilogy on me too. :P

    I’ve really wanted to try McKillip’s work ever since she made my radar this year (yes, woe to my negligence), but it’s so overwhelming attempting to choose one of her many books to start with! So I’m very happy to see how much you loved this one–it’s going on my short list of possible choices.

  13. Kristen says:

    Glad to hear you enjoyed this one so much since I just ordered a copy that showed up today! :) I also need to read more McKillip books. Her writing is beautiful.

  14. Linda W says:

    My favorite of McKillip’s works is The Bell at Sealey Head. She’s brilliant!

  15. linda says:

    Patricia McKillip’s writing is beautiful! But I kind of have to be in the mood to read her writing, haha. Another vote for The Forgotten Beasts of Eld! :)

  16. Devon says:

    My favorite McKillip book is “Ombria in Shadow.” Also, the covers on all of Patricia’s books are simply gorgeous!

  17. Terri says:

    I love The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and I think it’s just about perfect. It feels like an old fairytale, a story of love and vengeance and forgiveness and magic. Sybel is an amazing character.

    And I love the Riddlemaster trilogy too, which I first read as a teenager and revisit every 5 years or so.

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