Review: The Brides of Rollrock Island, Margo Lanagan

This review is part of the Discover Aussie Fantasy feature, running during July on The Oaken Bookcase. You can find details of the feature and enter the giveaway on the Aussie Fantasy page!

The Brides of Rollrock IslandThe Brides of Rollrock Island (Sea Hearts in Australia) (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Margo Lanagan (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Rollrock island is a lonely rock of gulls and waves, blunt fishermen and their homely wives. Life is hard for the families who must wring a poor living from the stormy seas. But Rollrock is also a place of magic – the scary, salty-real sort of magic that changes lives forever. Down on the windswept beach, where the seals lie in herds, the outcast sea witch Misskaella casts her spells – and brings forth girls from the sea – girls with long, pale limbs and faces of haunting innocence and loveliness – the most enchantingly lovely girls the fishermen of Rollrock have ever seen.

But magic always has its price. A fisherman may have and hold a sea bride, and tell himself that he is her master. But from his first look into those wide, questioning, liquid eyes, he will be just as transformed as she is. He will be equally ensnared. And in the end the witch will always have her payment.


Note: This book was published by Allen and Unwin in Australia as Sea Hearts, but is named The Brides of Rollrock Island overseas. I’m not sure why my library had a UK edition but that’s the one I’m reviewing.

Series: Stand alone
Genre: YA Fantasy/Fairytale
Published: Sea Hearts published Allen and Unwin, February 2012. Published in the UK by David Fickling Books Feb 2012, in the US by Knopf Books September 2012.
Pages: 320
My copy: Library

Paper copies: • • Book Depository
E-copies: • • Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)


The Brides of Rollrock Island is a dark fairytale concerned with the consequences of dealing with witches. It’s a strange book – rather slow moving, but the writing itself is very beautiful with lyrical descriptions that put you right into an exposed seaside town.

The story is told from several points of view throughout the book. Firstly, the story of the childhood of the sea witch Miskaella is told, and of her discovery of her powers. She is treated terribly by the townsfolk on Rollrock Island and when she discovers a way to bewitch the men of the island, she is delighted. Thus follows the stories of various families of the island as the men-folk succumb to the lure of the beautiful sea wives Miskaella is able to summon. These are no run-of-the-mill mermaids, mind you – these are Selkies, beautiful and ethereal women called to human form from their seal-forms. The men cast aside their own wives, and hide away the seal-skins so that the seal-women cannot return to the sea.

Make no mistake, this is no happy story – just about everyone in the story is desperately sad most of the time, except perhaps for Miskaella and her apprentice Trudle who take an evil delight in everyone else’s misery. The menfolk of the town seem very easily enchanted. Is the magic that strong or is Margo Lanagan trying to show that all men are fickle and weak-willed? Either way, the treatment of the human women on the island did leave a bad taste in my mouth, but I suspect that was the intended reaction.

I first decided to read this after I learned it had won both the Best Young Adult and Best Fantasy categories in this year’s Aurealis Awards over a few other short listed books that I enjoyed. Margo Lanagan has also recently won the Ditmar Award for Best Novel and the Norma K. Hemming Award (for exploration of race, gender, sexuality, class or disability in science fiction or fantasy – wow, that’s a mouthful) for this book. I do believe the awards are well-deserved – the storytelling is exquisite, even if the subject material is rather dark. Here’s a small excerpt from Miskaella’s story:

Time and again I must force myself to see that no actual wind frayed or bent the air. I feared that at any moment I would be caught up bodily and thrown high away, or dissolved grain by grain up into this invisible wind. Surely my mind would break soon from seeing this, from seeing through the skin of things to the flesh and the bone, to the breath gusting through and the blood pouring about? I would die of it, or fall into some kind of terrible fit. For the first time I was seeing life truly, and the truth would overwhelm me; a person couldn’t bear this sight for long – a girl of nine should not be expected to bear it. Look at the power all but bursting from every cobblestone and grain of grit between! See how it was loosed in dribs and drabs so measuredly, moss crawling there in a corner, a schoolboy here running along his lane to join us, his greetings peeping within the roar-that-was-not-a-roar. Oh, the sky! I was glad of the clouds, the glowering light, for they seemed to my timid eyes to contain this ongoing event, though another, fresh-born, braver Misskaella behind those eyes knew that cloud of clearness was nothing to the purposeful flaring. It would leap regardless, pushed on outward by the forces from below.

If you’re looking for an unique and beautifully told fairytale, I do recommend The Brides of Rollrock Island, but perhaps steer clear if you’d rather not read a depressing story!

Warnings: Sexual references but otherwise very clean

About the Author

Margo LanaganMargo Lanagan, born in Waratah, New South Wales, is an Australian writer of short stories and young adult fiction.

Many of her books, including YA fiction, were only published in Australia. Recently, several of her books have attracted worldwide attention. Her short story collection Black Juice won two World Fantasy Awards. It was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and the United Kingdom by Gollancz in 2004, and in North America by HarperCollins in 2005. It includes the much-anthologized short story “Singing My Sister Down”.

Her other fantasy works for younger readers includes the award-winning Tender Morsels.

(Bio from Goodreads)

Review: Of Poseidon, Anna Banks

Of PoseidonTitle: Of Poseidon (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Anna Banks (website) (twitter)

Rating: ★★★½☆

Galen is strong, protective and gorgeous, with striking violet eyes and a body to make you shiver – and that’s just when he’s in human form. He’s from the House of Triton, god of the sea, and he’s searching for a girl with the gift of Poseidon to save his brother from marrying a fraud.

Emma is a human. Or so she thinks. When Emma meets Galen on the beach, they both sense a sizzling chemistry.

But can Galen convince her that she holds the key to his kingdom – without letting on that he’s falling for her?


Series: Of Poseidon #1
Genre: Young adult paranormal romance
Published: In AU, Hardie Grant Egmont, June 2012. In US Feiwel & Friends.
Pages: 324

Paper copies: • • Book Depository
E-copies:   Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)


Of Poseidon is one of those polarising books. On the one hand, it’s a great debut with an interesting story, is quite an enjoyable read, plus it has a cover I’ve been admiring ever since it was released! On the other hand, it contains some rather major wince-worthy moments that caused a lot of bloggers to one-star this book. I’m not going to do that, because on the surface (ha ha) I quite enjoyed reading it. After I read a few reviews though, I have to agree with many points others have made.

So, here’s another liked/didn’t like review.

The Story

Galen is a prince of the Syrena, ocean-dwelling shifters (mermaids, but don’t call them that!) who try not to have anything to do with humans. Galen has appointed himself as a sort of spy to keep an eye on what the humans are up to and make sure they’re not about to discover the Syrena. Then, he meets Emma on a beach in Florida. She’s a human, but he can sense her in the way that he senses other Syrena. He decides to try to solve her mystery, moving to her town in New Jersey and following her around. Galen’s brother Grom is the current King of the Titans. According to the Syrena’s accord the King must mate with a female “of Poseidon” in order to preserve the bloodlines. When Emma starts to show signs of royal gifts, Galen realises that if she is Syrena, he must do his duty and deliver her to his brother. But how can he, when he is steadily falling for her?

Emma is trying to recover from the loss of a friend when she starts getting caught up with the gorgeous Galen and his bitchy sister, Rayna. After her introduction to the world of the Syrena, she makes it her business to find out exactly what she is, without revealing that her feelings towards Galen are growing daily.

Things I liked

  • Galen. Not in a “Omg, hot hot hot!” way, just in general. I admired his tenacity and his loyalty to the kingdom. 
  • The story was quite light-hearted and had me chuckling regularly. I especially liked Toraf and his playfulness. More Toraf please!
  • The romantic parts were quite well written, even if it was all rather predictable.
  • The story is told from both Emma’s and Galen’s points of view. That really helped to fill out the story from each side.

Things I didn’t like so much

  • I’m not usually a fan of present tense but I can usually live with it. In Of Poseidon, Emma’s chapters are first person and Galen’s are third person. Why the change? I really found the switching difficult to keep up with. Third person is all very well, but combined with present tense as well made it very difficult for me to keep up with what was going on when.
  • Galen. Creepy stalker-ish move across the country to go to Emma’s school? Following her on a date with another guy? I mean really, the poor bloke was doing the best he could under the circumstances, but to Emma he should have looked a lot more like a stalker. He also kept major secrets from Emma throughout the whole book, which is very unfair. If he’d just told her what was going on a lot of heartache would have been spared!
  • Emma. She spends a lot of the book feeling sorry for herself (under the circumstances that is mostly fine), then flies off the handle at the slightest provocation. For example, Emma is told about some customs of an ancient culture that is different from hers, and rather than accepting that information respectfully, she flies off the handle. Granted, it is pretty horrible that Syrena girls are married off according to their suitability to produce offspring, but that’s pretty much the way most species of animals do it in the world, and even humans until fairly recently. 
  • “Ohmysweetgoodness” is not a word. Honestly.
  • Killing off random friends to generate sympathy. Not a fan.

Of Poseidon is an encouraging debut from Anna Banks. Even with its interesting world-building, it did end up being predictable and more than a little shallow (sorry). I did enjoy it as a light-hearted read though, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next instalment.

If you enjoyed Stephenie Meyer or Lauren Kate, give this one a crack. If you didn’t, it’s probably best to keep on swimming.

Warnings: Violence, sexual references

Of Poseidon

Prequel novella
Of Poseidon
#1: Of Poseidon
#2: Of Triton
Expected pub: May 2013


 What did others think of Of Poseidon?

  • Of Poseidon was my first mermaid book, but the merfolk have found a friend in me.  It was funny and clever and highly entertaining.” – The Starry-Eyed Revue
  • “I knew how the book would end in the second chapter. There’s no anticipation, no mystery. Just incredibly slow characters. That is pathetic.” – Steph at Cuddlebuggery
  • Of Poseidon has ingredients like good plot, action and mystery we all want to solve, but the book failed to deliver those properly.” – Pages From My Thoughts

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