REVIEW: Daughter of the Sea by Elisabeth J Hobbes
On a windswept British coastline the tide bestows an unexpected gift…
It was the cry that she first noticed, the plaintive wail that called to her over the crash of winter waves. Wrapped only in a sealskin, the baby girl looks up at Effie and instantly captures her heart.
Effie has always been an outcast in her village, the only granddaughter of a woman people whisper is a witch, so she’s used to a solitary existence. But when Midsummer arrives so too does a man claiming to be the child’s father. Effie is surprised when he asks her to continue looking after his daughter, mysteriously refusing to explain why. When he returns six months hence she pushes him for answers. And Lachlan tells a story she never anticipated … one of selkies, legend, and the power of the sea…
Dear Ms. Hobbes,
Just wow, what a cover. I think you won the cover lottery this year with this one. This is such a sweet, gentle, slow burn fantasy romance that won my heart as it managed to avoid glaring anachronisms (well, really I didn’t catch any), while incorporating selkies and a working class heroine.
Effie Cropton is out gathering wrack both for her grandmother – who has amazing knowledge of age-old medicinal remedies – and herself to paint when she hears a heartbreaking cry. Wading into the freezing ocean, she discovers and pulls in a basket with a child (surprising herself, given that she’s not very religious, by immediately thinking of Moses in the bulrushes). What she finds is baffling: an infant child who is naked except for a sealskin wrapped around her. Effie nurses her and then takes her in. A few days later her friend Walter, son of a prominent businessman, brings her news that the ship her fisherman husband was on has sunk with all hands lost. Effie hadn’t married for love but misses John and now must support herself while caring for her own son and this mysterious girl child from the sea.
A year later and late in the evening, a knock on her seaside cottage door brings Lachlan into her life. He claims to be the child’s father and one look at his eyes convinces Effie. Lachlan is stunned when she announces that yes, she’s fed the child all year (and I thought, seriously dude, how else did you expect your daughter to have survived). He asks Effie to continue caring for Morna, which he announces is her name, and he’ll pay her with a beautiful pearl. On Midsummer eve, he’ll return.
And so begins their six months long contracts. Effie cares for Morna, whom she loves like her own, and Lachlan reappears after six months. Effie thinks there’s something he’s hiding from her but she also fears the day when he returns and takes Morna. Meanwhile, she gently fends off the obvious interest that gentle Walter has in her and wonders at the amount of time she spends thinking of Lachlan. Well Alice, her grandmother, has only to take one look at Lachlan and immediately realizes what Effie initially refused to believe about Lachlan. When events bring things to a head, who will Effie choose and where will she stay?
I liked Effie. She’s outspoken to begin with and only grows in mental and emotional strength as the book continues. Her parents had been middle class (though I’m not quite sure about how they had become so given how Alice was viewed by the townspeople) but when she and working class John got caught out by a pregnancy, they married and Effie – in the eyes of the village – sank to working class status. Effie keeps bodies and souls together with her own efforts plus she’s intelligent and not afraid to speak her mind.
Her relationship with the children is wonderful. Soon it’s clear that Jack is autistic (though the term isn’t used and no one really knows specifics about this) while Morna is strangely drawn to the sea and has “old eyes.” The two of them together are bonded like siblings and while they act as toddlers will, they’re good children and love their mother.
Effie’s reaction when Lachlan reveals who and what he really is makes sense. At first she, who up until now has paid little attention to fairy stories, thinks he’s joking and teasing her. When the truth finally seeps into her brain, she’s repulsed. A fanciful mind is not something our Effie has. What is this creature she’s had in her house and, oh my, she’s been looking after his daughter for years! This is when Alice is needed to pour oil on the troubled waters. Alice also shrewdly guesses that her granddaughter has entertained thoughts about Lachlan and that these are most likely returned.
But Lachlan’s folk stories, told to lull the children into sleep, make clear what he’s told Effie. His kind and hers usually don’t mix well and when this happens, the ending to the story often isn’t a HEA. When something else surfaces (oops, pun not intended) that could scuttle (yikes, another one) their relationship, what will happen? Effie wants one thing but when that doesn’t appear likely to occur, she must look to her best interests even as she realizes that something else facing her will break her heart.
The characters are well drawn and believable. Effie chafes against the restrictions of the day that women are bound by and refuses to knuckle under to the social hierarchy of the village. Alice is delightful, wise, caring, and able to shock her granddaughter with memories of her own possible encounter with a man from the sea. There is a love triangle – of sorts – though it’s fairly clear to me who Effie wants. Still, how she was going to mend what had gone wrong and fight her way towards being able to grasp her happy ending kept me focused. And win out in the end she does by her own efforts. Go, Effie. Some stories don’t have happy endings. But some do. B