A Book Review of Sea-Change by P.W. Fox
This novella is an epic tale, with evil aristocrats, witchcraft, warring clans, sword fights, and even a red wedding, condensed within a quick two-hour read. You’re probably thinking that would be a classic case of information overload, like when you read a sci-fi novel so crammed with facts and history that you can’t get past the first chapter. I have to admit, after the first few paragraphs, I was wondering if I would be able to remember all the names and events thrown at me. To my delight, however, I was given just enough for my brain to hold onto, and for the plot to blossom within. Fox paces the story so that we may use our own imaginations to fill in the gaps—we don’t need to know the whole history of these warring clans in this fantastical place, only enough hints to cradle the protagonist in our minds.
And he gives our minds breaks. The basic premiss of the story is that a future duchess befalls a terrible treachery (most of her family is slain, and she is sold into slavery), and she must escape her new fate (which she does with the aid of powerful sorcery), and find a way to reap revenge (bring down the usurper to her father’s ducal seat). After a beginning packed with such action, though, Fox slows down to let a reader enjoy the world he has created. The sun rises and sets, our protagonist sleeps, eats and runs on a sandy beach, boats row to and fro with the tide, the cycle of the moon advances. The realism of life experience helps to imagine the “sea-change” that the protagonist must be feeling, which is the most intriguing aspect of the story.
The hook in this brief tale is not what is told, but what is inherently understood: sex, and all the intricacies involved with both the gender and the act. For, the sorcery that is preformed early on changes the main character, a woman named Selena, into a man (he decides to call himself Seldon). That’s the sea-change; Selena partly uses the sea water in her spell to change form. I sat up a little straighter in my seat, as soon as Fox began describing Selena as “he,” as in,
“Selena walked from the water up to the dry sand trying to get used to the way his changed body moved. Selena was now definitely male in appearance, and larger than he had been as a woman. He gathered up the remnants of his dress and tore off what remained of the skirt to use as a loincloth like he had seen the fisherman on Grendar wear.”
It’s such a simple, yet strangely alluring, idea and it works perfecting in a short story. Fox doesn’t need to describe anymore magic, because our minds are buzzing with what that would feel like. We’re all either one or the other (or somewhere in between, in rarer cases), so we know intimately the details of being our own sex and are obsessively curious about the opposite. All Fox needs to do is hint at Seldon feeling strange urges towards a girl he meets, and our imagination is piqued, our senses actively engaged.
I won’t ruin the ending by telling whether or not Seldon (almost naked throughout the story, stuffing knives into his loincloth, and later riding a horse bareback) is able to return to his female form, but the possibility that the spell was flubbed and could be permanent hangs overhead. Rest assured that the conclusion is immensely satisfying.