Seal Island is a gothic paranormal that is just…too long. There’s a lot of interesting stuff here that would have been much more interesting had the book been shorter by about a third.
Cecilia “Cecil” Hargrave is at a crossroads in her life when she unexpectedly inherits a house and business from a rather distant relative. Allegra, her sort of aunt, had no other family and so named Cecil as heir. The catch is, the property’s located on an island off the coast of Maine. Since Cecil’s life isn’t going anywhere anyway, she decides to take the summer and go on up to see what Allegra left her. If she likes it, maybe she’ll stay. And if not, she’ll have the summer in a more scenic environment.
What Cecil doesn’t realize is that Allegra didn’t die of natural causes, and her murder is fraught with mystery, all of which seems centered around the house she left behind. As an heiress, Cecil is suddenly popular with the Seal Island residents, and her blah social life takes a sudden upswing when three different men befriend her. But are these men what they seem? This rural Maine community harbors secrets. Legends of selkies abound, and there seems to be more than the mystery of Allegra’s death to be solved.
Seal Island’s main problem is that it’s overfull. This is a gothic romance, the definition of which I’ve heard jokingly referred to as a romance between a girl and a creepy house. The main components are here: there’s a girl and a creepy house. But the house’s mystery is overshadowed by all the details of the people living on Seal Island. This is not a Jan Karon book, but it feels kind of like it with all the goings on the author throws in about the local newspaper editor, the woman who run’s Allegra’s tourist boutique, the local restaurateur, and Cecil’s lawyer. Basically, the only characters of import should be Cecil, Allegra, Cecil’s love interest, the villain, and the house itself, several of which may be one and the same. Everyone else is incidental. Too bad they get so much screen time.
The love story is similarly diluted. Cecil is involved with three different men at one time or another during the story. This is at the very least one man too many, and oodles of page time are unfortunately and inexplicably lavished on Bachelor Number 3. Allegra and the house, both more interesting by far, get the short shrift, diluting the gothic feel of this gothic romance. The house had a great deal of potential – it’s murder central, full of mysterious Allegra’s cool stuff, as well as beachfront property with regular seal visitors who appear to be watching Cecil. But Brallier simply squanders the built-in creepiness, preferring to concentrate narrative on Cecil’s new career as a would-be chef.
The villain is disappointing too. I confess, I peeked ahead – I’m an end reader, sue me. But I’ve done this with tons of books and still bitten my nails over how it will all work out. In the last fifty or so pages the story does pick up. Brallier finally includes more selkie folklore, and the suspense plot plays out. But by this time the villain just seemed sort of sad and pathetic, and it was hard to work up much concern for Cecil, who never quite comes to life, despite the first-person narrative.
I had high hopes for Seal Island. The selkie angle is unique, and I enjoy gothics and first-person point of view. But in the end, the non-stop detail of Cecil’s daily minutiae sucked the sexy spookiness right out of this gothic romance, and I can’t recommend it.