When Blythe offered me Sea Witch, she knew I’d jump at the chance to read and review a selkie romance. One of my two favorite romance short stories is a selkie story, and whenever I get the chance to mention John Sayles’ The Secret of Roan Inishe (like this), I do. Unfortunately, Virginia Kantra’s latest, while true to the basics of selkie lore, didn’t capture my imagination. And that’s because her selkie heroine, the 700-year-old Magred, was too “real” a character to maintain the fantasy of the myth.
Magred has come ashore the small Maine island of World’s End because she’s, well…she’s horny. She is discovered on the beach by Caleb Hunter, formerly an officer with the Portland police department who, since being injured on a tour of duty in Iraq, took a job on the island of his youth as police chief. Magred is mysterious about who she is and why she’s mostly naked on the beach at night, but she makes her sexual desires clear enough. The noble Caleb resists – he’s on duty, after all – but she lets him know where she’ll likely be the next evening, and he arrives with a picnic basket filled with goodies. The only goodie she’s interested in, though, is him. She puts an end to his efforts at small talk by aggressively taking action, and the two of them have wild, passionate sex, after which she disappears, leaving Caleb to believe she’s simply gone to freshen up.
The next time they meet, it’s under dangerous circumstances: Caleb discovers a bonfire on the beach and what appears to be a man jumping into the flames, with Margred nearby, injured. She continues to be as cagey in her responses as she’s been so far, but here’s what’s happened: a demon inhabited a human’s body and stole her skin. She doesn’t quite know what the demon wants other than that it can’t be good for humankind, but she knows that without her skin, or another selkie skin, she’s stuck on dry land as a woman, without her immortality, and perhaps without a soul.
As a police officer, Caleb knows Margred’s not coming clean about things, but he fears she’s in danger of some sort, and takes her to his sister’s house for safekeeping. When Margred meets Caleb’s sister, she recognizes something unusual, but can’t quite put her finger on it. All becomes clear when Margred learns that Caleb’s mother was a selkie whose husband hid her pelt, and who returned to the ocean – along with her eldest son – when she discovered its hiding place. Caleb now is not sure if he is falling in love with a liar…or a crazy woman. And, although she’s never experienced human emotions before, Margred’s feelings for Caleb cannot be denied. Eventually, Caleb is forced to see the truth in her story, and the danger she, and his community, are in as a result of the demon. How can they fight the demon, together or alone, and maintain the sea and human worlds?
Caleb is a pretty wonderful hero; he’s easily the best thing about the book. He’s an alpha male who tries to do right, but he’s been physically and emotionally beat down. His heart soon enough belongs to Margred, but he struggles with loving her before he knows what she is mostly because of ex-wife issues. When Margred disappears one morning because he’s late in taking her to the beach, his first thought is that she’s like the ex. But he’s stalwart; he cares for her when he thinks she might be a liar, or touched in the head…and when he learns she a selkie who needs a skin to return to the sea, his response is heroic to the end.
Margred, on the other hand, was a character I never warmed to. In her thoughts and deeds through much of the book, her behavior was both alien and real. By that I mean that the author succeeded in making her inhuman, but her lack of humanity was too much of a problem for me to overcome until the very end of the book, which was too late.
Caleb’s siblings play enough of a role that I can foresee sequels for them, as well as a continued role for his father, who realizes what Margred is long before Caleb accepts it. He comes across as an antagonistic drunk for most of the story, but eventually exhibits a more-rounded character.
Virginia Kantra succeeds in Sea Witch with believable characters, which for me was both a strong point and a weakness, at least where her heroine was concerned. However, I can’t see myself continuing with this series, even though I remain a sucker for selkies.