Saturday, June 08, 2013

The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia McKillip

The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia McKillip

Completion Date: June 1, 2013
Reason for Reading: Fun! (And could also count for Once Upon a Time.)

Sealey Head is a small town on the edge of the ocean, a sleepy place where everyone hears the ringing of a bell no one can see. On the outskirts of town is an impressive estate, Aislinn House, where the aged Lady Eglantyne lies dying, and where the doors sometimes open not to its own dusty rooms, but to the wild majesty of a castle full of knights and princesses….
I am so out of practice on this blogging thing; but I am determined to get back in the groove. I decided to start with a book that I loved. Gushing always helps, right? For ages now I have been hearing really good things about Patricia McKillip and adding her to my TBR. Two years in a row I bought books at the Black Friday sale and made sure to get everything they had by McKillip. Then they just sat on my shelves looking pretty. (I mean, honestly, can you name many other authors that have an awesome artist designing all of your covers?) There have been many bloggers that have raved over McKillip so I strongly suspected if I ever got around to reading her it would be a fantastic reading experience. And, it was! I walked over to my bookshelves, grabbed the first book by her my hand touched, and settled in for what is likely going to be a long love affair with another fantasy author. It's been a while since I fell in love with a new author because my reading has been so sporadic the last year or so.

The Bell at Sealey Head is part fairy tale and part fable. I loved the intertwining of the two types of story-telling. It worked so well for the world that McKillip created. The reason I knew I was going to love this book is because right from the start there were two main characters that loved books. There was all sorts of conversation about the enjoyment of the written world, reading experiences, the feel of new books, etc. Then a bit later a third person joined the group. I love anyone that shares my love of reading and took to these characters right away. The first of these is Judd. He is the innkeepers son who has taken over the running of the inn following his father's bad health. He would rather just read all the time than deal with the business. They have a terrible cook and very little business. Then Ridley Dow arrives. He has a horse just for his books! And, he is a colourful character. His appearance sets in motion many events of the book because he is obsessed with the Bell that rings every evening and many people don't even seem to hear any more.

Ridley and Judd make for an interesting contrast. Judd has spent his life reading about magically things in books. Ridley reads about magic in books to find them in the real world. The Bell is not something that anyone can see, but it rings every evening from somewhere. The people of Sealey Head either don't even hear it or just take it as part of the local customs. Except for Gwyneth. She has converted a room in the attic into a writing room and is obsessed with stories that explain the mysterious bell. Her current story intersperses with the events happening elsewhere in the book. Many people believe that the Bell is the ghost bell from a ship that sank many years before and Gwyneth takes it upon herself to explain how that came to happen. It's a great story. The Bell and all it means are the fable aspect of the story. Then, there is the fairy tale...

The fairy tale takes place at Aislinn House. The whole book Lady Eglantine lies dying. While she sleeps one of her domestic staff, Emma, opens doors into another world. It is Aislinn House, but things are very different in this one. There she speaks with Ysabo who is trapped in the Ritual-run alternate Aislinn House. At the time that this story takes place she has just found out that she is marrying a knight whose name she doesn't even know. At first her story is like a second story in the overall narrative, but soon they will intertwine and fable will meet fairy tale.

I am not even sure I am doing this book justice. I really am very rusty on the blogging... Not that I am sure if I was ever very good at blogging... The important thing to remember is I loved this book and I am not even sure if it is really considered one of McKillip's best. This means I have lots of treasures to enjoy in the future! The characters really came to life for me in this book. I almost wish it was a series because I want to keep visiting with them and was sad when it was over. I am now on the hunt for everything McKillip has written. I almost wish I had been a bit more diligent on stock-piling her!

Strongly recommended!


  1. I've been away from blogging for a while now as well and also started (today) with a gushing post. I've only read one by McKillip, but was a bit meh about it, although it's one of the most famous: The Hero and the Crown. As I remember, it felt more appropriate for a younger audience.

    1. That one's actually by Robin McKinley...

  2. Of course you are good about blogging! I'm glad to see you are coming back too. It's just hard to keep up with everything isn't it.

    Anyway, this sounds like a good story and I always have a hard time coming up with reads for the Once Upon a Time challenge as these aren't my typical reads. Will have to keep it in mind!

  3. If you're ever looking for a very short but absolutely marvellous read, may I recommend McKillip's The Changeling Sea? So wonderful, and feels a bit like Sealey Head I think. This one, incidentally, wasn't one of my favourites of hers... at first. Then I read it a second time and adored it. So there you go. I am not always in the mood for a McKillip, but when I am, I love her stuff hard.

    (Welcome back! Nice to see you again.)

  4. This sounds like a fantastic book! Love your review, the enthusiasm really makes me want to read this!


  5. Oh, I passed up this one recently! Will go back and see if it is still available.

  6. I so love Patricia A. McKillip, despite the fact that I am woefully behind on reading her books. I have the last three or four sitting unread. But I keep picking them up, especially with the lovely Kinuko Y. Craft covers. Hers is the first fantasy I recall reading, back when I was a kid and my brother bought me The Riddle-Master of Hed for my birthday. Thankfully all three books of the trilogy were out in paperback and after tearing through it I grabbed the others from the local dime store and tore through them. She writes in a beautiful, lyrical style that is unlike any other author I've read. So happy to hear this one made you want to gush.

  7. YAY! I too purchased this book from bookcloseouts and have not yet read it. I picked it up this week to read because I think I had a dream about it! But then I put it down again because I really want to read this other really long non-fiction book for my Peru trip (possibly wishful thinking). So glad that it is so good, though!

  8. Awesome!!! I'm glad you posted this because I hadn't gotten 'round to Googling McKillip yet, and I know you said he's a must-read. This looks amazing!

  9. I'm so glad you liked it cause I love her books so much!

  10. Of course you were, and still are, good at blogging! I haven't read any of this authors books yet.


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