The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillip

Periwinkle’s father disappeared in his little row boat out to sea, an event which also caused her mother to lose both heart and mind to the sea. Though only a maid at the local inn, Peri decides to try hexing the sea using what she remembers from the elderly witch who abandoned the cottage she now inhabits. But that night Peri is met by a tragic prince who appears with his own wishes. In casting their hex, the two expose a lonely sea monster chained to the bottom of the ocean by giant golden links. While the villagers are obsessed with getting the gold from the sea monster, Peri and a clever magician named Lyo would rather understand the creature itself. Why does it suddenly transform into a young man each night and walk up to Peri’s door, eager to learn the words for the world outside the water and the images he’s seen within it? Filled with the type of magic and beautiful language only this master fantasy-writer could create, The Changeling Sea is a captivating fog of fantasy.

Similar Recommended Readings:

“The Kelpie” is a short story of underwater magic in the book Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia McKillip. she has written scores of unique fantasy worlds for adults and children alike, including Alphabet of Thorn, The Bell at Sealey Head, and Winter Rose, which share common themes of restless power, the tumultuousness of the sea, or powerful loves, some lost, some found.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond is the story of a girl from Barbados with more power than she realizes to find her new purpose and bring justice to a strange, cold Puritan world. She finds the strangest friendships with an old Quaker widow, a young sailor, and a small girl who everyone thought was too ignorant to become literate.

Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey is another excellent young adult fantasy book, about a girl who runs away from her father’s oppressive castle because her great love of music has been forbidden to her, and in the midst of a dangerous natural disaster, finds and Impresses 9 fire lizards, the smaller, energetic cousins of the giant dragons ridden in other parts of her world.

The Seduction of Water by Carol Goodman has a brilliantly-written tale of the Selkie legend, and it is a pivotal part of the novel, as the main character’s mother wrote it to reveal to her daughter the whereabouts of a priceless family heirloom, long after she has passed away.

The Safe-Keeper’s Secret by Sharon Shinn is about strangers who visit Damiana to share their secrets with only her. One late night, a mysterious visitor from the city arrives with an unusual secret for the Safe-Keeper—a newborn baby.

Themed Recipe:

I chose to incorporate Blue Moon beer into the cupcakes because Peri works at an inn where beer is the most commonly served drink. It is something she spends much time refilling for the fishermen who at first are seeking to escape the monotony of their lives, then to enrich it with the links of gold chain around the sea dragon’s neck. Orange is a garnish typically served with this white wheat ale to enhance its flavors, because the beer is already brewed with a bit of orange peel in it. And something about the combination of these light, citrus flavors evokes a perfect beach day, much like this book would be a perfect book to take along in your bag to the beach.



  • 1 stick salted butter, softened to room temp
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened to room temp
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 cup Blue Moon Belgian-style wheat ale
  • 2 & 1/2 tbsp orange zest, divided (1 tbsp for cupcakes, the rest for frosting)
  • 1 large navel orange, juiced (⅔ for the cupcake, ⅓ for the frosting)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups powdered sugar


  1. For the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a stand mixer, combine on low speed the white granulated sugar with one stick of salted butter, and one stick of unsalted. (The combination of the two brings out the flavor more than two sticks of unsalted, plus added salt would have. Also, it’s one less ingredient to measure this way.)
  2. Once incorporated, add half of the flour on low speed, followed by the beer, then move up to medium speed. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  3. Then add in the eggs, one at a time on low speed.
  4. Add in the rest of the flour, the 1 ½ tbsp of zest, the vanilla extract, and ⅔ of the juice from the orange.
  5. Once all ingredients are incorporated, use a mechanical ice cream scoop (one with a swing lever) to fill cupcake liners ⅔ full. Bake for 14-18 minutes, or until edges just barely begin to brown, and an inserted toothpick comes out clean of batter. Allow to cool about 10 to 20 minutes before frosting.
  6. For the frosting, cream together the stick of salted butter with one cup of powdered sugar on medium-low speed.
  7. Next, add one more cup of powdered sugar, then the remaining ⅓ cup of orange juice. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  8. Add the remaining orange zest (leaving out a little for garnish, if desired) and cup of powdered sugar. Frost cupcakes and garnish with a little zest, or with an additional fragment of orange slice.


Discussion Questions:

  1. The old woman who used to live in the cottage had taught Peri “what to do with mirrors, and bowls of milk, bent willow twigs buried by moonlight, different kinds of knots, sea water sprinkled at the tide line into the path of the wind.” Peri reveals a little about what she knows of knots, but what do you think each of these other tricks might have the ability to do?
  2. The townspeople believed the sea monster to be chained to the “invisible island” at the bottom of the sea. What story does this sound like? Peri imagines it as a place “where entire cities were made of pearls, and men and women wore garments of fish scales…” What else might this underwater world be like?
  3. Why did Prince Kir choose to tell Peri, when he had told no one else, that he longed to go back to the sea, and felt it to be home? Why was it that it wasn’t until he kissed her cheek that Peri realized her desire for human touch, when she noticed “his need of her, someone human to hold”?
  4. Lyo compares magic to night when it is first encountered. “A vast black full of shapes…slowly, you learn to turn the dark into shapes, colors…There’s nothing in the world that doesn’t possess its share of magic…Everything connects to something else.” Is magic, then, like energy, which all things possess in some capacity, and is there a relationship between magic and energy? Does that also mean that everything can have use and purpose, if we know how to utilize it? What use did Lyo have for turning the gold chain into periwinkles, then?
  5. Lyo told Peri that “sometimes two great kingdoms that should exist in different times, on different planes, become entangled with one another. Tales begin there…This is not the first time.” What other kingdoms in our legends might he be speaking of? Which two in their story coexist? What might cause such a thing to happen, and how can they be separated again?
  6. Peri notes to Kir that she is lucky that he is only half like his mother, “because it would be very hard to say no to the sea.” He agrees, noting that he “would rise out of the tide, bringing you coral and black pearls, and I would not rest until I had your heart, and that I would carry away with me back into the sea, and leave you, like me, crying for what the sea possessed, and with no way but one to get it.” Why is he so sure and detailed in what he would do, were he more like his mother, especially since he hardly knows her? Why would he punish Peri in this way-does it have to do with knowing someone is suffering as he has? Does he believe he is doomed to relive the past?
  7. Why did the simple act of touching Peri mean so much to the sea monster, especially her seeing his need for human contact, and hugging him? What made him so lonely, if he was in creature form most of his life, and able to be around other sea creatures? Did he long for humans, knowing he was once human, and if so, is that why he would surface and listen to the tales and songs of the fishermen?
  8. One of the wild stories that the fishermen returned with was about a white seal, or a “white-haired woman with brown eyes” who sang and made the fisherman jump into the sea to follow her. What is the name for these part-woman, part seal creatures? Do you know of any of the legends about them, or have a favorite?
  9. Love and anger are like land and sea: They meet at many different places.” where do they meet for Kir, or his father, or his real mother? What about for Peri? Is it often in the same place for most people, or is it dependent upon certain circumstances?
  10. The sea creature was sad and didn’t have the words to tell Peri why. When asked, he told her he needed “all the words under the sea.” What words above the sea was he still missing to express his emotions? Why are words so important? What words might there be under the sea that he needed?
  11. Elementary Dealings with the Sea is the name of “a sort of primary book for mages” that Lyo presents to Peri to help her teach the sea creature new words. What sort of spells or ideas might be found in this book? Are there any you would like to learn, or Peri might have wanted to know?
  12. Peri wondered, “Were the spires in the sea a doorway to the land or to the sea? Who was looking out? Which was the true country?” What do you think?
  13. Lyo admitted that odd things drew his attention. What made those things odd? Do odd things draw some of us as well? If so, what types of things, and why?
  14. Lyo also observed that “Happiness, sorrow, they can weave through the world like strangely colored threads that can be found in unexpected places….if something is not said in words, it will be said another way.” What ways are things said without words, and what traces do they leave on places, and on people, even others? How were they in this story?

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