Home » OL Weekly

Book Review: Sea Change

By (July 12, 2013) No Comment

Sea ChangeSeaChange

by S.M. Wheeler

Tor, 2013

Imagine a gray sky overhead. Wading at the brink of a sapphire sea, you feel miniscule. Waves crash, bizarre creatures stir all around, and breezes drift through. Ahead, an “immeasurable depth of dark waters” inspires awe. Distracted by this catharsis, the trials of drunken father and woes of frustrated mother have washed away. But home will soon beckon, and perhaps it is time to turn around…yet, so much more awaits on the opposite shore:

Deadly, wild, her mother called it, a place for sirens and not for little girls, after which words she would turn Lilly’s head gently away. She must have known that once the salt-thick spray touches her daughter’s face and the waves crushed a welcoming song, Lilly would be enchanted.

Fantasy lovers will likewise be enchanted by the mystique, beauty, and danger offered by S.M. Wheeler’s debut novel Sea Change. Her protagonist, Lilly Rosa, is a quick-witted young girl with a misunderstood disposition. The shoreline enchants her, and for this she’s judged by family and peers harshly; they brand her a wicked, troublesome child.

Lilly’s cousin, known as Young Van Graf (she doesn’t remember his real name, and with his nasty demeanor, who cares anyway?), taunts her, asking “is your beauty what you sold to get your witchy powers?” Oblivious to beach-side risks, he disappears from Lilly’s eighth birthday party to cleanse himself of her “witchery.” Lilly chases after him, hoping to avoid any grief should Van Graf injure himself.

The reader subtly hopes that more surfaces from Lilly’s search than her snot-nosed, bratty cousin. Spellbound by oceanic surroundings, Lilly can’t help but wonder why a cluster of seagulls are in such a frenzy. As she draws near, the birds flee, and Lily discovers a sea monster–a kraken–the size of a fist. Cupping it gently between her palms, she quickly seeks to find it a safer tide pool (Van Graf who?). Hoping for the creature’s company again, she asks:

“Would you hear me if I called your name from the beach?”

“Yes! But I haven’t a name.”

“Octavius! Or Octavia. Which would you be?”

“Octavius, Octavius—I’ll have a name to tell the sirens when they say I will never grow big, I will say I must match my name by growing long!”

And grow he does. Over time he achieves a beastly stature, crimson in color with gold eyes and eight coiling tentacles. Though he appears malicious, he’s actually polite, charming, and gentle, with more common courtesy than most adult humans. His companionship with Lilly ebbs and flows, though when their separate realms overlap, the two share a world of their own.

Lord Nikolaus Rosa, Lilly’s father, describes her as a “hell-spawn” and is determined to replace her with a newborn daughter–an heir well received by society, one fit to be wed. Tension builds as Lady Anna, despite the wishes of her husband, refuses to produce another offspring. This fractured home life disappoints and desensitizes Lilly; matters of the human world do not pique her interest. Wheeler writes:

Without reason to believe that [Lilly] would be found by a husband, she found a different satisfaction in herself; she understood sexual congress from the mating of animals, listening to the lewd songs of the townspeople, her mother’s blunt explanations, and incidental self-discovery. Incidental became deliberate. She appreciated somewhat more those similes that compared women to the sea.

Through these words, the reader better understands the gravity of solace and self-identity that Lilly discovers within nature–where familial relations have otherwise lacked. Such deviations from social norms, by a well-to-do noble family, make for entertaining and well-executed ironic twists. The reader should discover these twists first-person; I wouldn’t dare spoil them.

With sophisticated prose, Wheeler plucks at the sensitive strings of sexual identity and inherent drive for purpose. Lilly overcomes great emotional, and extreme physical metamorphosis in her journey to rescue Octavius from a circus.

Seeing Lilly crouch by the cage bars, Octavius extends the tip of a tentacle toward her and explains his capture: “I could not kill them without being a monster.”

Sea Change is a beautifully wrought, thought-provoking fairy tale that brings to its audience a rare and genuine depth. It reminds us that best tales of monsters and men show how often we confuse one for the other.