Sea Change

Sea Change

4.0 3
by S. M. Wheeler

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The unhappy child of two powerful parents who despise each other, young Lilly turns to the ocean to find solace, which she finds in the form of the eloquent and intelligent sea monster Octavius, a kraken. In Octavius's many arms, Lilly learns of friendship, loyalty, and family. When Octavius, forbidden by Lilly to harm humans, is captured by seafaring traders and

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The unhappy child of two powerful parents who despise each other, young Lilly turns to the ocean to find solace, which she finds in the form of the eloquent and intelligent sea monster Octavius, a kraken. In Octavius's many arms, Lilly learns of friendship, loyalty, and family. When Octavius, forbidden by Lilly to harm humans, is captured by seafaring traders and sold to a circus, Lilly becomes his only hope for salvation. Desperate to find him, she strikes a bargain with a witch that carries a shocking price.

Her journey to win Octavius's freedom is difficult. The circus master wants a Coat of Illusions; the Coat tailor wants her undead husband back from a witch; the witch wants her skin back from two bandits; the bandits just want some company, but they might kill her first. Lilly's quest tests her resolve, tries her patience, and leaves her transformed in every way.

A powerfully written debut from a young fantasy author, S.M. Wheeler's Sea Change is an exhilarating tale of adventure, resilience, and selflessness in the name of friendship.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Lilly is a solitary, resourceful, and intelligent girl, her face covered by such a potent birthmark her talents remain forever hidden to the gaping eyes of others. A source of disappointment to a father in search of a capable son-in-law, a source of frustration to a withholding, magical mother, Lilly finds solace solely in the company of the kraken she encountered at the seaside at the age of eight. She renames him Octavius, and as the years pass their friendship only deepens. Their routine is disturbed by Octavius's sudden disappearance, and Lilly decides to abandon her family and devote herself to finding him. Her selfless pursuit leads her to a troll in need of female organs, a witch in search of her skin, a duo of bandits looking for companionship, a landowner endowed with mystical capabilities and bewitching beauty, and Octavius himself, trapped in a circus side show. VERDICT This debut novel begins in a hushed voice, then, slowly, the beauty of Wheeler's writing, the beguiling character of Lilly, and the tale's deeply complicated revisions and distortions concerning sex and gender reach utterly absorbing heights. Wheeler's truly original, fanciful, and transformative story will delight fantasy lovers of all types, as well as those readers attached to coming-of-age narratives and feminist sf.—Jennifer Rogers, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community Coll. Lib., Richmond, VA
Publishers Weekly
Wheeler’s stunning debut is a sophisticated fantasy whose lush descriptions, lyrical dialogue, and engaging structure are reminiscent of the very best fairy tales. Lilly, a nobleman’s daughter, had one true friend while growing up: Octavius, a gentle kraken who is closer to her than her emotionally distant parents ever could be. When Octavius is captured and sold to a circus, Lilly embarks on an epic journey to win back his freedom. Each step of the quest transforms and changes her, and as she encounters witches, bandits, and trolls, she reinvents herself. Unfailingly polite yet possessing an iron will, Lilly overcomes numerous trials, but the cost is great. With an almost poetic sensibility, Wheeler explores gender, sexuality, friendship, and love, offering up complex characters and emotional depth all laced with subtle magic. This profoundly beautiful evolution of fairy tale elements will have readers eagerly awaiting Wheeler’s next book. (June)
From the Publisher
“A harrowing fairy tale of loss, sacrifice, and growth.”

—Max Gladstone, author of Three Parts Dead

Kirkus Reviews
When her best friend, a talking sea monster, disappears, Lilly must embark on a sequence of self-sacrificing quests to release him, starting with the removal of her reproductive organs. Wheeler's bizarre and archly phrased debut is set in an unhappy land where the ruling class is miserable and the magic often visceral. Lilly Rosa is the child of a nouveau riche couple whose marriage is turning sour, leaving their solitary daughter in even greater need of companionship. She finds it in Octavius, a baby kraken/octopus which grows over time into a sizeable monster. Octavius has promised Lilly that he will eat no humans, a commitment that leads to his capture. Lilly, now 18, leaves her miserable home to find and release him, visiting first a troll whose help comes at a high price: the removal of Lilly's womb, rendering her androgynous. Lilly--now Lyle--does find Octavius, but the key to his freedom is a magic coat, and the key to that is the rescue of an undead tailor, and the key to that is the recovery of a witch's skin. Performing almost as many labors as Hercules, Lilly/Lyle eventually emerges befriended, stronger, maybe finally connected. A weird, operatic coming-of-age fantasy streaked with sexuality, pain and heroism; perhaps the awkward arrival of a new voice.

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Acid flowed at the table more often than wine and had long since ceased to cause Lilly alarm; her attention remained on the soup even as Father asked, “Does the thought of me still pain your head, love?”

Cool, Mother replied, “I fear I am coming down with some strange illness, for I suffer still. I should go to the baths and—”

His habit was to swallow such lies with a drought of the liquor at hand, but tonight the bottle had been emptied already. “And by what means will you have a child of mine while resting there?” He laughed, a deep, drink-rough noise. “Mourning the parting, will you lie with me the night before—then abort whatever is thus got and have a bastard by another man, to return to this house and claim—”

“Lilly.” Mother looked to her, fire on her tongue such that all her husband’s anger seemed but sparks. Here was not the woman who called Lilly sweetheart and cradled her face between her hands; in such a temper, she looked taller than Father, her presence heavy with the soot of past fury. “Dinner is over. Go to your room.”

Lilly filched a glazed bun from the table because she refused to go without something sweet; wrapping it in a napkin as she went out, she shut the door behind her then put her ear to the keyhole. She dismissed the thought of capture, for the servants were all stiff-faced and silent at the edges of the room, or gone away to the kitchen if they could, ashamed to serve a family that would descend into this crudity—unless all households of old blood were thus, and all servants must foster the ability to overlook lapses in decorum.

Though not given to eavesdropping, this argument concerned her; younger siblings would mean a sea-change, a reshuffling of priorities, danger along with freedom. The thick door muffled their voices but it didn’t matter; when their war came to open battle they fought lustily, snide murmurs giving way to shouts.

“If you won’t have my child—”

“I promised you one, and that one is enough.” She spoke now in her country burr, the honest voice; and softer, almost inaudible: “I will not die with the second.”

“I know. I know. But you’re better than your forebears. And what is she, this girl?”

Giving a short laugh, Mother said, “Your child.”

“But no sweet girl for me, not soft-eyed: no, sharp and sea-loving—”

Miss Scholastika caught Lilly by the ear, and dragging her by it as she only did outside of Father’s sight—though happy to do so when Mother watched—took her from the door. Both of them stayed quiet; Lilly bit her lip with eyes brimming, and Miss Scholastika kept herself to the pinch-mouthed look that the toothless excelled at. Only when they reached Lilly’s room did the servant release her and ask, “How shameless are you to be eavesdropping?” Her voice quavered—not angry, but fearful. “There are things a child shouldn’t hear.”

“They voiced those before I left,” Lilly said, reasonable, and flinched as the woman’s hand came up; but Miss Scholastika only rested it against Lilly’s cheek, the side of her face where the skin looked darkly bruised, brown and black, swollen.

Whispering, now, “Both of them love you.”

“Yes. Father wants a daughter he can parade or a son to become a merchant-marquis in his place, though.” Lilly moved away, smiled—and meant it. “Ma’am, I am happy.”

“You don’t know what that means,” the old woman said, bitter, and before leaving added, “Turn your mind to your books, child. I will want to hear what you know about our neighbor kingdoms tomorrow.”

Lilly did no such thing, knowing that the servants’ ability to turn a blind eye extended to her behavior. Slipping off her satin shoes and stockings and full skirts, she donned instead last year’s skirt—it fell just above her ankles and still fitted her waist—and on her feet put the soft leather shoes Mother gifted her with a conspiratorial wink and a finger held over her lips.



Copyright © 2013 by Shannon M. Wheeler


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