Sea Witch, by Virginia Kantra
The first full length novel in Ms Kantra’s Children of the Sea series, Sea Witch tells the story of the selkie Margred, one of the elemental beings born during God’s creation of the world, and Caleb Hunter, the very human chief of police of a small island off the coast of New England.
As I mentioned in my brief review of “Sea Crossing”, a short story and also a prequel for the series, the children of the sea are elementals and are loosely based on the Celtic legends of selkies, but with Ms Kantra’s personal twist.
Here is the back cover blurb:
Her spell cannot be broken…
From the water… For years, Margred has gone without the touch of another. Now, her need has driven her beyond her own world. For she is a selkie—a legendary being of the sea, able to shape-shift into seductive human form. Finally, she has found the one she wants…
From the land… A burned-out veteran of the big-city streets, Caleb Hunter was only too happy to take the job as police chief on the peaceful Maine island of World’s End. Nothing ever happens in this tiny community surrounded by the sea—until he meets a woman who’s everything he’s ever dreamed of. And more…
To each other… Their passion is undeniable. Irresistible. But when a murderer begins targeting women in World’s End, Caleb must face the terrible possibility that the killings are somehow connected to the mysterious Margred—and that the power of their love may change the fate of humankind…
While I don’t hate this blurb, I think it’s mostly meh, so here’s the plot:
Okay, no, it’s too long, so I’ll sum up:
Selkies are not gregarious as a rule and Margred is even more of a loner than most. However, selkies are also sensual and sexual beings who don’t see why they should deny any of their appetites—shiny stuff, food, sex. They want, they take, they move on to the next thing. Enter one gorgeous human male, Caleb Hunter, and Margred is quite ready to feast, then move on.
Of course, best laid plans and all that: Caleb has other ideas. After eighteen months in the hell on earth of the Iraq war, he has come back home to heal, to re-establish his roots, to settle. After an amazing sexual encounter, Caleb would like to add the woman he knows as Maggie to his life—permanently.
This is the setup for the internal conflict, but to that Ms Kantra adds the basis for an overarching story arc: the politics between the four kinds of elemental beings. While there is no large info-dump anywhere, the dynamics of the relationships between the four elementals—fire, air, water and earth—and of each of these with Humanity are sketched in, enough to explain what is going on.
Equally, the internal politics of the selkies and other mer (children of the sea) are hinted at through conversations between Margred and a couple of other secondary characters, but generally speaking the focus is on the two main characters, their growth, and their relationship.
My only quibble about this part of the story is that some of the secondary characters seem to have been introduced mostly as a prelude to their rôle in future installments—Lucy, Dylan, Regina.
So let’s examine the characters then, shall we?
I usually have issues with immortal characters because, regardless of how old they are supposed to be, they tend to behave like churlish teenagers. Margred/Maggie does not. Ms Kantra gets around the issue by showing us that this character’s innocence of the ways of humans—from mores to emotions—as well as of her own feelings, is a result of the inherent selfishness of selkies and of Margred’s innate introversion. Even while she was mated, for all the centuries of her existence, Margred lived essentially alone.
Margred’s selfishness is not off-putting because there is no malice in it. Unlike a psychopath, her lack of consideration of others’ feelings and needs stems from an absence of contact with any beings whose needs have ever differed from hers. Now that she is forced by circumstances to remain in close contact with other sentient beings—humans—she is like a child, learning the give and take of life in human society.
And she is growing, forced into a level of introspection and self-awareness that she has never indulged in before. Pragmatically, she accepts that what is, is, and adjusts to her new reality. She mourns what she lost, and she’s afraid of what the future will bring, but she copes with the present.
Caleb faces his PTSD the same way—he is aware of his fears, but he keeps going, working his way through them, and does what has to be done. That, for me, is more heroic than many grand gestures—not to diminish Caleb’s own grand gestures, though.
Caleb’s and Margred’s conflicting needs and desires make their interaction more complicated than either of them would prefer. Unlike many a romantic suspense novel, Ms Kantra allows their relationship to evolve over a period of weeks, which makes their individual growth all the more believable.
I found it fascinating that, despite the fact that both of these characters spend quite a bit of time in their own heads, I didn’t feel any distance from them. Their emotions were shown by their reactions rather than explained by their thoughts, and so were accessible and open to me as reader. I liked them both, and I rooted for them.
The external conflict, as I mentioned earlier, involves other elementals; specifically, the children of the fire—aka, demons. Quite often in books and movies, etc., pure evil is depicted in such a flat, two-dimensional way that it becomes cartoonish instead of terrifying. I must give Ms Kantra full props for not doing that. The scenes with the demon are excellently done—I felt revolted, scared and fascinated, all at the same time and in changing proportions, by the fish tank scene.
In the end, Sea Witch does have a few problems—the number and flatness of the secondary characters mostly—but it’s a very well constructed romance with engaging characters and an intriguing mythos. 8 out of 10