Friday, December 7, 2012

The Brides of Rollrock Island

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

On remote Rollrock Island, men go to sea to make their livings--and to catch their wives. 

The witch Misskaella knows the way of drawing a girl from the heart of a seal, of luring the beauty out of the beast. And for a price a man may buy himself a lovely sea-wife. He may have and hold and keep her. And he will tell himself that he is her master. But from his first look into those wide, questioning, liquid eyes, he will be just as transformed as she. He will be equally ensnared. And the witch will have her true payment. 

Margo Lanagan weaves an extraordinary tale of desire, despair, and transformation. With devastatingly beautiful prose, she reveals characters capable of unspeakable cruelty, but also unspoken love.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

I'd been seeing the cover of Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels all over the place and it's been on my To Read list for awhile now, but when I saw that she'd written a young adult book about selkies I had to have it immediately. Having read this, I am completely bewitched and will be seeking out her books and stories from now on. 

Getting accustomed to Lanagan's prose took several pages. I had to reread passages to see if I had missed a crucial detail, or tease out some other meaning to her words. I felt like I wasn't seeing her words from quite the right perspective, but then something shifted, everything clicked, and I was transported to Rollrock. She writes so evocatively that once you catch her rhythm, it's incredibly easy to visualize the windswept beaches strewn with seaweed, the Spartan cottages, and the pounding waves on the shore. It's unflinching in a way that reminded me of Robin McKinley's Deerskin, and offers a powerful sense of place and people like the best of Alice Hoffman's magic realism. 

Rather than being your standard linear novel, this book is broken up into stories told by various narrators at different points in time and over a few generations. One of the most intriguing is from the perspective of Misskaella, the so-called witch, but my favorite was voiced by a boy growing up on this lonely island. There was a point where I worried that the book would meander too much, that the loosely related stories would not come together, but things do come together to tell a satisfying story you won't soon forget.

Not your typical YA fare, this fantasy is strange, dark and lyrical. If you enjoyed Mermaid: a Twist on the Classic Tale by Carolyn Turgeon, or if you're a fan of Donna Jo Napoli, Neil Gaiman, or Jane Yolen, or have worn out copy of The Secret of Roan Inish, give this book a try.


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