Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan (2012, Allen & Unwin)Read about the other entries on the list.
Australia’s Margo Lanagan is no stranger to weaving spells (although she’ll claim they’re only ‘words’) and her Misskaella Prout in Sea Hearts is a witch of a very particular stripe. Stout and strange-featured, it seems she’s got some selkie blood in her veins and this gives her power over the women of the sea, those who live in the bodies of seals. She’s not well-treated, our Misskaella, and when the men of Rollrock Island come to her looking for wives who are more obedient and biddable, she finds a way to get her own back, though it’s a long and terrible game she plays.
After she draws the selkie-wives from the waters, they live on the land as spouses and mothers, docile and unhappy, wanting only to return to the oceans. The human women flee the island, leaving the men, their magical wives, and sons brought up on the milk of their mothers’ misery. Misskaella has had her own tragedies, her own agonies, and it’s made her not a little spiteful, which we can perhaps understand, but the consequences of her actions are more far-reaching and destructive than she could have foreseen … or perhaps not.
Told from six points of view, the much-awarded Sea Hearts is a powerful examination of relationships between men and women, men and men, women and women, and parents and children, viewed through the lenses of sorcery, selkies and the sea. It’s Lanagan at her incisive, wicked, witchy best.