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Sea Change
By S.M. Wheeler
Tor, $24.99, 304pp
Release Date: June 18, 2013
Sea Change is quite unusual; a most extraordinary story of fantasy written in a style that is reminiscent of Sheri S. Tepper at her finest, or Mervyn Peake, or Meredith Ann Pierce’s Darkangel Trilogy, or the grimmest of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. This is not a careless, derivative adventure of a quest with your typical assortment of stock characters; these characters are wilder, dangerous in their originality, and yet familiar, as if one had met them before in dreams. And certainly there are whiffs of Shakespearian themes – after all, the title comes from The Tempest, when Ariel says

Full fathom five thy father lies:

Of his bones are coral made:

Those are pearls that were his eyes:

Nothing of him that doth fade

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange.

I think this would be a profoundly disturbing book for most young readers, but if any young reader feels drawn to it, he or she probably has something to find in it. After all, most of us know when a book is right for us.

Lilly lives in a kingdom by the sea. Her best friend Octavius is a sea monster who is more forthcoming and articulate than any of the adults about, more companionable than any of the other highborn children, and a better friend than humans seem capable of being. Lilly is not quite the child her father wanted her mother to bear, as she is neither a son to inherit the estate, nor beautiful, nor powerful in magic, nor docile. Feared as her father’s daughter when she is not ignored, Lilly spends every hour she can steal away in the company of Octavius, until her mother leaves and her father decides that she ought to take more interest in her proper affairs.

When Octavius is captured and sold to a travelling circus – shades of Mommy Fortuna’s Midnight Carnival in The Last Unicorn – Lilly sets forth to find her friend, but the purchase price of his freedom is steep and uncanny.

Lilly becomes an agent of change in the lives of everyone she meets as she barters the promise of one gift for another and sets out to set the chain of exchanges in motion; but first, she is herself changed. And if, at first, her transformation seems too cruel, it proves to be a fair deal, for she is wrought into a form that can survive, endure, and negotiate all the dangers ahead. Whatever meaning and significance you take away from Lilly’s sea change and the adventures that follow, the events have the weird, cold logic of the imagination that is the mark of the true marchen.

There seems to be some mystery concerning the author, for there is little information to be found about S. M. Wheeler at the time of this writing. Perhaps the finalized cover jacket will convey more. I’m definitely intrigued. Anyone who could write Sea Change is someone I would like to meet. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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