Patricia A. McKillip,
Something Rich and Strange
(Bantam Spectra, 1994)

Something Rich and Strange is the second and last book to be published as part of the Brian Froud's Faerielands series, and it blends Patricia A. McKillip's luminous prose with Froud's eerie and ethereal artwork into a small treasure of a book.

Megan is an artist living by the sea in the Pacific Northwest. She spends most of her days sketching seascapes which her lover, Jonah, sells in his shop along with the fossils about which he spends hours reading. They seem to balance each other out in the way that people who are comfortable with each other do, until the day that a sea hare literally creeps into a drawing Megan makes of a tidal pool. This curious creature is the catalyst for the events to come, as the hare is a transitional symbol throughout the book.

First, an artist calling himself Adam Fin comes to Jonah's shop with a rosewood casket of jewelry he has made and hopes to sell. Megan is the one to look at the jewelry, and she is fascinated by the pieces, including the earring Adam wears: a running black onyx hare with a silver quarter moon on its back. Then Jonah hears a woman singer at the Ancient Mariner, an aptly named local bar, and her voice is like the song of the ocean itself. He is obsessed with finding her, with responding to the siren song, but he can't find her anywhere.

Jonah's preoccupation is not lost on Megan. She, in turn, while worried about him, is also drawn to Adam who keeps appearing, seemingly out of nowhere. When Jonah disappears, drawn away to the ocean depths with the mysterious singer, Megan turns to Adam, but as a way to find Jonah. Adam gives her an image to draw, and Megan, too, descends into the world of the merfolk.

The underwater world in which Jonah and Megan find themselves is lovely and terrible, filled with the beauty of Faerie translated under the sea but also marred by the depredations of humankind. It is there that Megan and Jonah learn the price they must pay if they will return to the land, and it is quite possible that the price is more dear than either expected.

McKillip writes with vivid images and fine specific details, and the characters come alive on the page. The story is simple and compelling, following the form of the fairy tale. There is a message here, but the tale does not preach or stand on soapboxes; the reader takes away from it what s/he brings to it. Froud's evocative drawings highlight the narrative effectively and often take the reader by surprise. It is the cover, however, which seems to express the essence of the story: a faery woman, crowned with a circlet of pearls, holds some sparkling magic in the palm of her hand.

Unfortunately, this title is out of print, but it is well worth the effort to find a copy for yourself either to own or to borrow from a well-stocked library.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]