Title: The Brides of Rollrock Island
Author: Margo Lanagan
Rating: 5 Stars
The Brides of Rollrock Island is one of those novels that left me with the thought that there is no possible word in the English language that could even attempt to summon up the strange, ethereal, and mystifying experience that is chronicled in this book. As my first venture into Lanagan’s world, I have to admit that Brides simply blew me away, leaving me utterly breathless. It is a slow, intriguing tale that often reminded me of Darwin’s An Origin of Species, since, in many ways, Lanagan seems to be recording the evolution of the magic on Rollrock Island through her multiple PoVs, characters, and generations. Brides is a story that sucks you in from the very first page and just keeps sucking the emotions, feelings, and deepest desires of your soul right out until you close the last page, a secret smile upon your face as your mind is a little more intelligent, your heart a little more accepting, and your world a little more different than ever before.
It is difficult to properly summarize The Brides of Rollrock Island in any way that could possibly do it justice or cease to reveal one-too-many spoilers. It is suffice, I hope, to say that much like Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races is a tale of the island of Thisby and its deadly water horses, Brides is a tale of Rollrock Island, a mystical island on which seals loiter about, giving way to the legend of beautiful brides emerging from these seals, only to pine for the ocean every waking hour they spend away from it. It is on this island that Misskaella is born, to a family like any other except for the stark difference that a generation’s buried affinity for magic has been successfully suppressed, until the birth of Misskaella herself.
It is these two seemingly un-similar occurrences – a forgotten legend and the birth of a woman with magical abilities – that spark the story arc of Brides. Within her latest novel, Lanagan weaves a complex tale of carefully extracted revenge, using seven different PoV’s to transition between past, present, and future; woman, child, and man. Each PoV is unique, different, and surprisingly deep. As each one unfolds, the overarching arc of the novel becomes clearer and clearer as Lanagan carefully peels back the intricate layers of her world, its psychology, its people, and its world in and of itself. The Brides of Rollrock
Island is not a tale of happiness, but neither is it one of despair. If anything, it is bittersweet at its finest, a blend of subtle joy sprinkled amongst a sea of troubles, injustices, and unfairness’s. Yet, at its core, it is a beautiful and touching story, one that gives strength, lends hope, and leaves you thinking for hours afterwards.
The Brides of Rollrock
Island, despite being a story of revenge, is not a story that puts blame on any one person or group of people. In fact, Lanagan masterfully weaves her story in such a way that it is impossible to tell right from wrong. All we are able to glean from this novel, at the end, is that its course was inevitable. Any one of us, if thrown into the positions of these characters, would have mostly likely reacted the same way, making this a strangely believably tale. Furthermore, the undertone of doom, of history living on to repeat itself again and again, of men falling prey to the beauty that is beheld by eyes and not the heart or mind, to women falling prey to trust of men who woo them with words, of children falling prey to the prejudices of their parents…all this is within human nature and its cycle will repeat itself and the events that occur on Rollrock are all bound to occur yet again, in another hundred years or so. If anything, it is this theme of being unable to control one’s fate that is so aptly felt.
Yet, the subtle undertones of this novel indicate otherwise. Whether it be the women of Rollrock Island who have the strength and courage to leave her husbands who want beautiful sea wives to a new life in a foreign town, or the children of the sea wives who find it in themselves to defy the fathers they look up to and grant their mothers the happiness they seek, or whether it is the witch of Rollrock herself who finds a way to love and happiness despite her estrangement from society which was granted to her based solely on her appearance and gift of magic she couldn’t control, The Brides of Rollrock Island is full of characters who take fate into their own hands. Of characters who decide to mold what they want from life, despite what circumstances have thrown at them. It may be a story of aching sadness and despair, but it is also a novel of so much strength and hope and courage that one cannot help but come away from it an inspired individual.
Nevertheless, what I loved most about The Brides of Rollrock Island, is, without a doubt, its ending. For once, here is a novel that starts out strong, builds and keeps getting better, and ends with the strongest note of all. If there is such a thing as a perfect novel, it is probably this one as its prose is beautiful, its story mesmerizing, its characters three-dimensional, and its capacity to make you open your mind and think and revel and accept is simple astounding. I just cannot recommend this novel enough. It is a story that will stick with me for a long time to come and one that I will undoubtedly return to in a matter of years, confident that I will come away from it with even more knowledge, more questions, more wisdom, and more mind-blown than ever before. If you choose to read just one Margo Lanagan novel or one Aussie Fantasy or just one book, let it be this one. It lacks the capacity to disappoint; trust me.