Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Bell at Sealey Head, by Patricia A. McKillip

The Bell at Sealey Head odd book. Again, this is not a book that I picked for myself but rather was thrown at me by Katie over at I Smell Sheep. Because there wasn't any smut. All right, all right, I'll finish ranting about the Sheep and get to the actual book.  The Bell at Sealey Head takes place in a small coastal town called Sealey Head which is, for the most part, unremarkable. Except...except that at sunset every day people hear a bell. No one has ever seen this bell but they have heard it ring for hundreds of years. Most people of Sealey Head assume that it is the echo of a ship that went under at sunset years ago and after a while they cease to notice its ringing, it becomes part of the background noise. However there are a handful of people who suspect that there is more to the bell and that it might have a connection with Aislinn House, an old manor on the cliffs over Sealey Head. 

Ultimately my response to this book is that I feel it should have been a little longer. It's a fairly short book, coming in at under three hundred pages, and that is of course plenty of time to develop a plot. The problem I have is that the book drags in so many plots that I feel the book never adequately addresses all of them by the end of the book. We have Judd Cauley, the son of the local innkeeper who suddenly finds himself hosting the curious scholar Ridley Dow who has come to Sealey Head to investigate the bell. We have Gwyneth Blair, the local merchant's daughter, being courted by Raven Sproule, son of the local squire. However Raven is only interested in horses while Gwyneth is more interested in reading and writing her own explanations for why the bell tolls at sunset. In this respect Gwyneth has more in common with Judd who has a more intellectual turn of mind himself. And this doesn't even touch on Aislinn House with Emma the maid who for her entire life has been able to open doors to an alternate Aislinn House where a princess named Ysabo lives. Ysabo herself begins questioning the life in her own world where each day she performs the same rituals day after day and no explanation is given. Well, beyond the moon will fall and the seas will run dry, but it's hard to connect turning a page in a blank book in a locked tower with any of that. It seems there is something inherently wrong with Ysabo's world and it too is connected with the bell. 

I want to say that I liked this book, but I felt that what it did could have been done better. I liked the various plots which sort of snaked around and you had to guess what was going on because the characters themselves didn't have all the information, and in some cases weren't sharing information because they didn't know each other. It would have been a great opportunity for us, the readers, in the privileged position of knowing everything to work out the plot on our own. Unfortunately while the book's plotlines do come together at the end, I feel like it's rushed and lumped together rather than building to a climax. That is my main issue with the book, and other than that I liked it. I mean, the book never explicitly states where Sealey Head is geographically or for that matter temporally, but based on what I know of history and geography I placed it on the English coast sometime in the late 1700's or early 1800's. I couldn't place it any more specifically than that, but the exact time and location are sort of secondary. 

Despite the rushed feeling at the end of the book, I at least enjoyed it. I also have to give McKillip credit for creating characters which evoked an emotional response from me. Granted, the characters were Raven Sproule and his sister, Daria. And my emotional response was, "Dear god, I want to shove these people off a cliff." Seriously, they're constantly talking about marriage and balls and parties and society and AGGGGGHHHH! I just wanted them to fall off a cliff because they were so insipid. So I felt that was a strength of McKillip's writing and showed that this book could have been better if it was a bit longer. I don't know why it's the length it is, maybe she had a deadline to meet, I don't know. 

If you're looking for a fantasy book that's a little different from the standard quest and has a bit of a mystery, I'd suggest you give The Bell at Sealey Head a try. Just try to not push the Sproules off of a cliff. Even if they deserve it. 

- Kalpar 

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