Published: 1989 by Del Rey
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I picked up a tattered paperback of The Changeling Sea at a used book sale in part because I love McKillip’s ethereal writing style, and in part because of the gorgeous Michael Whelan cover. Like most of McKillip’s work, The Changeling Sea reads like a fairy tale or a bedtime story; it’s short, enchanting, and filled with wonder.
Peri (short for Periwinkle) lives in tiny fishing village. Her father died at sea, and ever since, her mother has been listless and distant. Peri spends her time living in a local witch woman’s cottage until she too disappears. Frustrated by her own feelings of loss, Peri decides to hex the sea. As she is constructing her hexes, a bedraggled Prince Kai appears and asks her to include a message to be carried to the sea. Peri doesn’t really believe that her hexes will work, but she agrees. The next day, a sea dragon appears wearing a chain of gold. But who on earth could be powerful enough to chain such a being?
I’m not normally about love triangles, but there is a love triangle in this story, and it is done well. Peri finds herself developing feelings for Kai, but we know from the very start that their love is both passionate and doomed, because Kai is drawn to the sea and loves it more than he could possibly love a mortal woman. Meanwhile Peri builds a companionship with another character that gradually develops into something more, even though it’s not the same kind of love that she experiences with Kai. And there’s so much acknowledgment of how much doomed love can hurt, even if a relationship isn’t practical or feasible or good for the people involved. The entire message is delivered with both elegance and melancholy.
I read The Changeling Sea in one sitting, as it was both short and impossible to put down. It reminds me nostalgically of the stories that I read as a child. I’d highly recommend this, or any of McKillip’s novels. Once again, her work does not disappoint.