Selkie Summer by Ken MacLeod (book review).

In Scottish mythology, selkies, meaning seal-folk, are creatures capable of turning from seal to human form by shedding their skin. They are found in the folklore of the northern isles. ‘Selkie Summer’ is set in our world except that selkies and some other mythical creatures, vampires for one, are real. I hasten to add that no vampires feature here, they’re just mentioned. The various non-human species are classed as Metamorpha and they were often hunted.

However, once killing them was banned, the selkies aided the Royal Navy in certain battles. Later, there was some scientific study of them ‘from Cousteau’s pioneering work to Attenborough’s characteristic tour de force of a close up’.

Our heroine and first-person narrator is Siobhan Ross, a student at Glasgow University and we join her on the bus to Kyle of Lochalsh, whence she will get the ferry to Kyleakin on the Isle of Skye. She has a summer job working in a small hotel, eschewing the many summer jobs in Glasgow to escape her ex-boyfriend. One of the ferry crew is an incredibly handsome chap named Cal. Siobhan falls for him instantly and he seems to like her. Later, the locals tell her that he is a selkie. Woe is Siobhan! When selkies take the human form, they have a glamour that many find irresistible but are best avoided romantically for they are not really human.

Fat chance. Siobhan continues her pursuit and Cal reciprocates. The love story is fine and nicely handled in a low key way. Happily, there’s more to it than that. We learn a lot about selkies, their history and a current crisis involving British submarines. The plot develops nicely to a logical conclusion.

It’s a very easy read. First-person narration can be annoying in unskilled hands but Ken MacLeod is a smooth professional and the words flow beautifully. Siobhan recounts the events and her thoughts about them but there are no long passages of dull introspection. Furthermore, 140 pages is a sensible length for the story. This is how novels used to be! You could pick them up without weight training first and drop them without breaking your foot.

Another small triumph from Newcon Press. It’s also available as a signed hardback and an eBook but my review copy was the paperback edition.

Eamonn Murphy

September 2020

(pub: NewCon Press. 141 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-912950-63-8)

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