Some call them sea-wives. Others call them seal-women, fairy lasses or monsters. But to the boys of Rollrock Island—only boys, not a single daughter in a generation—they are their mams. Beautiful, docile, otherworldly and sad, the mams say nothing of their past, only that they came from the sea.
At the heart of this magic lies the witch Misskaella. Mocked and alienated by the people of Rollrock, Misskaella draws on her natural affinity with the island’s seals to exact an exquisite revenge. The radiant, not-fully-human women she calls forth from the water’s edge dazzle the men of the village. Once a man has been enchanted by a seal maiden, his interest in the business of human affairs dries up like old seaweed.
In The Brides of Rollrock Island (first published in Australia as Sea Hearts), two-time Printz Honor recipient Margo Lanagan draws on Scottish, Irish and other Northern European coastal legends of selkies: shape-shifting seal women who can be held captive in their human form by whoever possesses their sealskins. Lanagan’s lush, image-laden writing style, reminiscent of the fairy tale retellings of Donna Jo Napoli and Francesca Lia Block, forms the perfect vehicle for the atmosphere of wistful longing that traditionally characterizes selkie tales. Weaving between the points of view of several generations of islanders, mainlanders, witches and boys, Lanagan tells a story in which loves are lost and sometimes regained, truths are hidden and sometimes revealed . . . and redemption may be both closer and farther away than it appears.