Book Review: The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia McKillip


277 pp.

Patricia McKillip is one of my favorite writers, but I generally find her works to be somewhat hit or miss. She is a writer who excels at creating modern fairytales and intricately described landscapes that seem to be both concrete and dreamlike. Her prose ranges from the flowery to the simple and practical and can draw you right into the story, except when it does the opposite. The Bell at Sealey Head would be one of the novels that threw me right out of the story. (Largely through no fault of its own in this case; I just could not form an attachment to any of the characters.)

This story involves a sleepy seaside town with a single supernatural mystery that no one really pays attention to because they think they already know what it is. Every day at a certain time a bell is heard, though the source of the sound can’t be located. The bell is generally believed to be from a ghost ship, but a number of people are trying to discover what the bell actually signifies. One specific person wants to write stories about and another is trying to find magic.

Meanwhile, there is a mansion known as Aislinn House, where an old woman is dying. This house has its own mystery which involves a connection to another world where a strange ritual is performed to the sound of the ringing bell. (Which is of course the very bell that the people in Sealey Head hear every day.) One of the people enacting the ritual is a princess who is friends with a maid in the version of Aislinn House with the old woman. The maid’s mother is a witch who has gone into the forest in order to do research about the house. (The witch was formerly the maid in charge of the stillroom.) It is the objective of several people to find a way to help the princess and solve the mystery behind the ritual and the ringing bell.

This was an engaging and readable story, but I did not really feel anything for the characters. The climactic moment when the mystery of the bell is solved went kind of flat and strange, and the princess in the story sort of gets shuffled off to the side instead of rescued or having anything like a closing character arc. (Or at least, that is how it seemed to me. Viewpoints may vary depending.)   


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Filed under book, fantasy, Patricia McKillip, Review: Book

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