Salted by Aaron Galvin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Folklores around the world tell of transmorphic sea creatures shifting into human shape and blending in with the unaware local human populous: mermaids [merrows, sirens], selkies [silkies], and kelpies to name some more common forms. Often, a form of seduction transpires between the folk-creature and some humans. The deceptions often escalate to kidnapping, rape and slavery of either humans lured into the drowning sea or sea-folk trapped into a terrestrial existence until said time that they can escape back into the sea.
This imaginative urban fantasy creates a rich and elaborate world of sea-folk and humans in a modern setting. Selkies, seal people, are an enslaving society with a strict caste system. The form of seal one can transform into matters. With leopard seals [“lepers”] being the most dangerous. Though sea lions [“racers”] and elephant seals can be quite formidable, too. No less than 7 species of seal/selkie appear. But more importantly, most are enslaved. Others are slave owners, slavers, runaway slave catchers, and slave abolitionists. Humans are as oblivious to the horrors around them as most people are today of the ongoing existence of modern human trafficking present still in the modern US and Europe.
To be clear, through a well-developed veneer of urban fantasy and folklore this is a story about modern slavery from many nuanced vantage points. And that is brilliant. It can also be quite disturbing to see the abuse, violence and heavily suggested rape.
As the opening volume to a series, the world construct will only get richer as other transmorphic folk are seen minimally but with the suggestion that the interactions and history between the selkies and the dolphin-folk merrows, orca-folk [“orcs”], and shark-folk [“nomads”] is equally as complex once one descends beneath the ocean’s surface.
Interestingly, some liberties are taken with the folk traditions. The young adult hero of the tale is an “orc”, unbeknownst to him, living in landlocked Indiana. So, sea-folk can be oblivious to their own status–for generations. Also, it’s suggested humans can be transformed into sea-folk, ie a non-selkie can become an enslaved selkie. Finally, though not elaborated, a form of glamour magic exists around the sea-folk such that humans cannot see a half-transformed merrow as anything other than a dolphin. Whereas, other sea-folk can see every stage of the transformation from dolphin form to mer to human.
This novel and series is recommended. I received my copy of this novel directly from the author.
[Check out my other reviews here.]