Tor Romance, $6.99, ISBN 0-765-34892-6
Paranormal Romance, 2005
Kate Brallier’s debut effort Seal Island may be interesting as a meandering stream of consciousness put on paper for, oh, 150 pages, but as the story drags on past its 200th page, clubbing baby seals in the head suddenly doesn’t seem like a bad idea if that will get this book to end.
Patterned like a Gothic story, Seal Island tells the story of a rather typical heroine that exists only in self-absorbed steam-of-consciousness stories where she has the luxury of having life revolving around her. Cecilia Hargrave or Cecil is a rather unhappy woman from Manhattan who has lost her job and her home when a hitherto unknown cousin Allegra conveniently drops dead and leaves a house for Cecil. This house, as any reader can guess, is in some idyllic place untouched by the twentieth century. In this instance, Cecil packs up and moves to Seal Island, Maine, where she meets three men who intrigue her as well as a seal. I wish I can say that there is some suspense in this story stemming from whether Cecil will ditch both men and run off with the seal to join a circus at the end of the day, but alas, there is not even that little reprieve.
Instead, I get pages after pages of tediously overly detailed description of pretty much everything and everyone in Seal Island that Cecil comes in contact with. Ooh, lovely paintings! Ooh, scary house! Wow, what a charming scenery! When Ms Brallier has to take three pages to describe the furniture in Cecil’s new home, that’s when I start to wonder whether Seal Island starts life as an IKEA Summer Special brochure hastily rewritten into a paranormal romance to cash in on the opportunity afforded by Tor Romance to be published.
But even with the overload of descriptive passages, the story drags. That’s because many of the things the author spends time on describing to the finest detail have little or even no impact on the overall storyline. Therefore, what should matter – like fleshing out the men and Cecil into characters that I can at least care about – are ignored for trivial details like the pattern of the upholstery in Casa Cecil. Ms Braille isn’t just overlooking the forest for the trees here, her storytelling is more akin to wasting time painting little Mona Lisas on trees while forgetting that there is a forest right before her eyes.
The mystery of Allegra’s death comes off like a pesky interruption to Cecil’s wide-eyed travelogue in Seal Island. Even so, there is very little respite to be had from this subplot because the author telegraphs everything to me, leaving me with little suspense. Unless, that is, wondering when Cecil will get a clue and see the obvious counts as “suspense” in this case. There is some selkie lore here, but ultimately everything in this very slowly-paced book is so heavily wrapped up in heavy-handed, sometimes purple prose that inspire mostly lethargic boredom on my part.