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Seal Island
Kate Brallier
Tor Romance, 466 pages

Seal Island
Kate Brallier
Kate Brallier is a native of New York City's Upper West Side. As a child, her family spent summers on a forested island in the DownEast region of Maine. Despite a life-long obsession with reading and writing, she trained as a biologist, attending Yale University and the University of California at Irvine, before getting a job in publishing. She is a now a senior editor for a major New York publisher.

Kate Brallier Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Charlene Brusso

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With its Gothic atmosphere and moody setting, this twist on the old selkie legend is the kind of romance Mary Stewart might've written thirty years ago -- in about 250 pages. Recently down-sized from her dull New York City office job, Cecilia ("Cecil") Hargrave is more than ready to head north when she inherits her Aunt Allegra's house on Seal Island, just off the Maine coast. Though Cecil barely knew the older woman, she's thankful for the chance to spend the summer relaxing, rereading legal thrillers by her favorite writer, Thomas Moreland; fall will be time enough to face reality, probably sell the house, and start looking for work.

Once on Seal Island, Cecil finds plenty to make her comfortable. Allegra's secluded house is cozy and beautiful, and Cecil immediately takes to Allegra's old-fashioned lawyer Harry Cameron, and Allegra's friend Abby Cantwell, who helped out at the small gift shop Allegra ran during the tourist season.

Then Cecil learns her aunt was murdered. And the crime was never solved.

Kate Braillier gives us a fine opening, with a moody, evocative locale and the prerequisite set of attractive men. Seal Island is the kind of place where the locals regard everyone who wasn't born there as a foreigner, like Richard Feinman, the urbane and ambitious editor of the local paper. But Cecil also finds growing friendships with gorgeous Rowan the gas station attendant, and the mysterious Tom Monhegan, who is clearly more than the lobsterman he seems to be. All these people knew and liked Allegra -- or claimed to, anyway. But in a community this small and tightly knit, how could it be that no one has any clues about the identity of Allegra's murderer?

By Seal Island's midpoint, we know someone is intermittently stalking Cecil. But it's here that Braillier lets things fall slack. Events that seem to herald coming revelations -- such as the return of Ragnarok, a seal Allegra raised from a pup, to the coast near the house -- become merely prosaic. Cecil drifts along, gossips with Abby, attends the 4th of July picnic, considers selling the shop and opening a restaurant... Eventually the tension cranks up, but even then, so much is telegraphed that many readers are likely to see the ending long before reaching it. We can guess which guy Cecil will end up with, and while the stalker still haunts our heroine, she herself seems to forget him for long periods of time. The climax of the novel is fast and furious, and the only part with any actual "fantasy" elements.

The Tor Romance line has been a curious beast. While intended to produce books with crossover appeal to both SF/fantasy readers and romance readers, the titles so far -- all written by authors with track records as romance writers -- have stayed at the shallow end of the pool, providing fairly traditional romance elements with little or no innovation in either genre.

Is Seal Island then an effective romance? Yes, for the most part -- particularly for readers who like quaint, detailed settings and old-fashioned Gothic suspense. Despite the slow middle, Braillier gets the job done.

Copyright © 2005 Charlene Brusso

Charlene's sixth grade teacher told her she would burn her eyes out before she was 30 if she kept reading and writing so much. Fortunately he was wrong. Her work has also appeared in Aboriginal SF, Amazing Stories, Dark Regions, MZB's Fantasy Magazine, and other genre magazines.


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