Home from the Sea by Mercedes Lackey was a pretty enjoyable, fluffy fantasy romance. Set in coastal Wales, it combines the story of Tam Lin with selkie myths. Mari Prothero is a young woman who lives with her father, Daffyd, an unusually lucky fisherman. On her sixteenth birthday, Mari learns, to her great dismay, that she has been promised as a bride to one of the Selch, the seal-skinned people of the sea. This bargain has been in place for generations of the Prothero family; they inject their healthy human blood into the waning Selch stock, and in return, the Selch reward them with prosperity and safety at sea.
Mari doesn’t take this news lying down. She has been able to see magical creatures since her birth, and they have recently warned her that she is special and that she has the ability to bargain. Armed with the knowledge that her magical ability is valuable to the Selch, she bargains for a teacher to instruct her in magic, and the ability to choose her husband from among the Selch. However, she ends up falling in love with the teacher, Idwal, not with any of the handsome young Selch sent to court her.
A subplot revolves around Nan and Sarah, two young supernatural adepts who have been sent to Wales to keep an eye on the Mari-situation. They don’t exactly know what they’re getting into at first; they only have news of a great Water power rising in Wales. But soon they befriend Mari and Idwal and work to protect them from the ire of the Selch leader. Nan and Sarah (and their animal companions) were my favorite characters and I wouldn’t mind seeing more from Lackey just following them around the English countryside as they conduct what amounts to supernatural detective work.
This is the only Lackey I’ve read so far that has delivered what it seems to promise: a cohesive plot, moderately entertaining characters, and an appropriately set-up and executed romance. The Welsh setting, complete with lots of local mythological figures like the Selch, the Mari Llwyd, and the Tylwyth Teg, was delightful. While not a lot really happened for most of the novel, it was fun just to read about a small village in Wales, to watch Mari shell peas and collect laver, to enjoy the Yuletide celebrations as they unfolded.
The biggest drawback is that there was not a really strong sense of danger or foreboding in the book. The most consistent antagonist was a Welsh constable who took his job too seriously; his hounding of the Protheros was so relentless that I thought, “Surely this guy will end up being some sort of magical enemy,” but no, he was just a human with a bad attitude. Far from being actually scary, the Selch leader who initiates the final conflict was merely grouchy and the threat he posed was quickly dealt with.
I heard this read by Kate Redding, one of my favorite female readers. I first encountered her as the female narrator of Robert Jordan’s WHEEL OF TIME series, and it was great to hear her read this. Her voice is so pleasant and full of personality, and I was very impressed with her range. For the chapters set in Mari’s pov, she used a slight Welsh accent, while for her chapters set in Nan and Sarah’s pov, she used a Received Pronunciation English accent.