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Written By:

Ed Fortune

It’s safe to say that Joanne M. Harris is one of the modern masters of fantasy writing. With a list of past works as diverse as The Gospel of Loki and Chocolat, she defies easy definition and never fails to deliver a cracking read.

Her latest novella, The Blue Salt Road, is one of those sleepy winter reads that delights and chills at the same time. Set in what appears to be the Orkney or Shetland Islands in the 1700s, it’s a tale of whaling, islanders and selkies. It begins with a woman who falls passionately in love (or at least in lust) with a beautiful dark-eyed man from a distant shore. He is, of course, a selkie. That is a man who spends most of his time as a seal, only shedding his skin in the warmer climes in order to make mischief on dry land.

Of course, all is fair in love and war, and the young lady hatches a plan to ensnare the man and keep him by her side. He is a wild thing (as in he literally spends most of his time as a wild animal), a strange and exotic creature that she not only wishes to possess, but also settle down and marry. As you may be able to predict, things simply do not go as planned.

This is a beautiful and savage tale. Humanity is shown to be ugly, selfish, fickle and greedy, taking from the sea what it wants without any thought to others. The fairytale theme is strong and powerful here, it’s a story of rough magic and even harsher realities. Harris writes in a lyrical storytelling style; the voice throughout lends a tone of wisdom to the affair. Not quite a tale told by the fireplace, but close enough.

The novella itself is a beautiful volume, slim and well bound. It’s also illustrated throughout by Bonnie Helen Hawkins, who provides vivid pencil drawings that add to the storybook feel. It’s a strong and compelling read; The Blue Salt Road is a journey you should take.


Ed Fortune

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