Peri has spent the last year drifting. Her father was taken by the sea, and her mother now lives in dreams of an underwater world. Peri simply lives, drifting from her job at the inn to an abandoned house on the edge of the tide. Her anger is monumental, and so she decides to hex the sea. The king’s dark, brooding son, who spends hours staring out at the ocean waves asks her to send a message with her hexes, and Peri complies. Afterward, her life is filled with strangeness: love for a prince who sees only the sea, an erratic magician, the undersea world, and a sea dragon that emerges from the waves with a chain of gold upon his neck.
Patricia Mckillip has crafted a pearl of a book with The Changeling Sea. The words are polished. It is not a long book, and yet one can feel that even a single extra word would have shifted the balance.
Peri is believable as a girl set adrift in her own life who struggles with the many losses she has accumulated over the past year. Her own efficacy in returning balance to both land and sea is never questioned by those who matter, though Peri herself never sees herself as anything other than an innkeeper’s drudge.
Many fantasy novels focus on the large-scale good vs. evil battles, a la The Lord of the Rings. This is a quieter fantasy. The villain, as such, is not terribly villainous, even as she remains inhuman. Magic is intrinsic to the story, but it is largely the magic of the sea, a magic with incredible power, but without a lot of flashy sparkles. This lets the bulk of the story rest on the characters and their reaction to the fantastic turn of events.