The Bell at Sealey Head
by Patricia A. McKillip
Review by Carolyn Frank
Ace Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441016303
Date: 02 September 2008 List Price $23.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Sealey Head is an ancient promontory. Every evening at sunset, folks in the area can hear a bell tolling. No one is sure exactly where or why the Bell at Sealey Head tolls, but it is only a local minor mystery, The bell can be heard best, by those who can hear it, near the point, which is where the old inn is located. Judd Cauley, who runs the off-the-beaten-track somewhat run-down inn while caring for his aging father and spending every free hour reading, hears the bell. Gwyneth Blair, who writes ingenious tales, wears glasses, and although preferring Judd's company, spends her days with the Sproules, hears the bell. The Sproules, Raven, the local gentleman farmer who is courting Gwyneth, and his sister Daria who is Gwyneth's best friend, hear the bell.
Others who can hear the bell include several at Aislinn House, the one truly great home in the area. Lady Eglantyne, who is very old and is slowly dying, hears the bell. Emma, the only young servant left in the entire place, hears the bell, as does her mother, Hesper, who has gone to live in a tree-based dwelling in the nearby woods. Emma, however, has another ability. Occasionally, when Emma opens a door within Aislinn House, it opens into another version of the place.
Through such open doors, Emma has met Ysabo, a young woman who spends her days following the rules of some mystifying ritual. In the fairy-medieval version of Aislinn House, Ysabo, although the daughter and granddaughter of the princesses who live there, must spend her time feeding crows in the morning in an open air turret, turning pages in a book in a study, lighting and carrying a lantern to a boat in the cellars, filling the tankards of certain knights before dinner, but never exiting the mansion. Ysabo, her mother, and her grandmother also hear the bell.
Newly arrived in Sealey Head, Ridley How comes with his huge trove of books to stay at the inn and to investigate the mystery of the bell and just what is happening at Aislinn House. Judd is immediately taken with this new store of books, and borrows a local history to read aloud to his father. Meanwhile, as Lady Eglantyne appears to be near death, her grandniece-heir, Miranda Beryl, arrives to stay at Aislinn House. She hears the bell and seeks to quiet its aching-sounding tolling.
This fantasy contains tales within tales, Gwyneth's fantasies of the origin of the bell, the local history that Judd reads to his father, the stories of Aislinn House that Hesper tells her daughter Emma. All contain some plausible aspects, but the primary story is true only to itself. For anyone who craves stories, who is enchanted by enchantments, who delights in an old-fashioned romance, this is a fantasy written by a master for enjoyment by all.