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Sea Spell by Tess Farraday
(Jove, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-515-12289-0
Sea Spell is the first selkie book I've ever read. Selkie is an Orcadian dialect word meaning seal. Selkies (or silkies) are seal-people, shape-shifters of a sort, living off the coast of the Orkney Isles and the Hebrides, according to legend. After I finished Sea Spell, I realized that I still knew very little about selkies. I did some research in mythology reference books and found the italicized facts. Information is available about selkies. It's just not found in Sea Spell. .

Ten years ago, fifteen-year-old Beth Caxton was rescued from drowning in the waters off Grey Gallows, California by a young man . . . well, sort of. Her rescuer was really a selkie who took human form to resuscitate her. When her parents discovered her and the young man, who was 100% naked, they weren't convinced that his only goal was to help Beth. In the resulting mess, the young man vanished. Beth always knew, in an unfocused and undirected manner, that her rescuer was otherworldly.

Twenty-five-year-old Beth has returned to Grey Gallows. Before leaving San Francisco, she met Gordon, who is our selkie, all grown up. Gordon has bided his time for ten years, but wants Beth as his mate. He knows he's got a challenge; Beth doesn't recognize him as her rescuer. Gordon is in turn mysterious, sullen, kind and enigmatic. Information about selkie history, legends, customs and behavior are missing. All I learned in the first third of the book was that Gordon needs to protect his seal skin so that humans won't find it and imprison him in human form. Later I learned that their offspring would either be selkie or human, but not chimeric.

Dissension in stirring up the residents of Grey Gallows. The economy is moribund. Certain factions want to rename the town and give it an upscale image. Fishermen blame the decline in fishing on the seals and sea lions. Uh, oh. Problems in River City!

Sea Spell is a story without detailed points of view. It's almost a fill-in-the-blank approach. Beth and Gordon's thoughts, reasons and actions aren't explained well enough. I guess I'm a method reader. I want to know the whys and don't want to guess the character's motivations. Sea Spell always left me wanting more, needing to know more to make these characters flesh out. Because of this lack of detail, the whole story had a vague feel.

Over half way through the book, Gordon finally begins to talk about himself and his background. The story of how he's chosen the name of Gordon is charming and gentle.

Too many secondary characters populate Grey Gallows. At times I had to stop reading and backtrack in my mind, trying to place the characters and determine their significance. Also, sometimes the segues between scenes were not smooth. I'd have to reread a paragraph, then go to the next one and try to determine what characters were on stage and what the setting was.

Beth and Gordon's relationship is battling for space and word count among the following plot threads: Beth's sexual capitulation, the town's revitalization, evil people determined to eradicate the sea life, Gordon's imagined rivals for Beth, Beth's reminiscences about her father, her do-it-yourself home repairs, her stepmother, her cat . . . .

Most superheroes are invincible. Perhaps Gordon is, too, but I was frequently worried. There are men who carry baseball bats as a matter of course and take joy in bashing the skulls of the seals and sea lions. This fear translated itself into discomfort and my inability to completely enjoy the story.

Familiar with the selkie legend? Then this book probably won't satisfy your interest. Never read a selkie story? Keep a reference book by your side. Sea Spell is an acceptable story, just light on the romance and light on selkie information

--Linda Mowery

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