A few years ago, I was enchanted with this book trailer for Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver, which features the ridiculous idea of a human/kraken romance. So when I read this review of an (adult) novel featuring just that, I had to read it. (Look! You can see Stiefvater’s harp in the background!)
Sea Change by S.M. Wheeler.
Lilly is the only child of the local noble, but between outclassing the neighbors and having been born with a disfiguring birthmark on her face, she’s never had any friends. Even her parents are distant and critical, both with each other and with her. She met Octavius as a child, when he was just a tiny baby kraken, small enough to hold in her hands. Now that she’s in her teens, he’s much bigger than she is, but she still spends all her free time with him, sometimes talking, sometimes exploring the nearby countryside. Even though there isn’t a physically sexual aspect to their relationship, Octavius is the most important person in her life. When he goes missing, she is distraught, and willing to do anything to get him back. The rest of this gender-bending book explores just what she means by “anything”, in a personal sacrifice kind of way. First, she makes a grueling journey to the remote mountain home of an ogress, and trades her female organs to find out where Octavius is: held captive in a too-small tank for a circus. (This book, though officially published for teens, is one of those rare books that explicitly mentions menstruation: Lilly’s somewhat upset at the lost opportunity for children, but had suffered from debilitating menstrual cramps that she’s quite happy not to be rid of.) Lilly now wears men’s clothing and goes by Lyle, and her quest turns into a kind of Firebird story, where the person who has what Lilly needs for the next step will only give it to her if she first gets another magical object from yet another person. The characters she meets include a magical tailor, a skinless witch, two bandits and their assistant automata, and a boy who used to be a donkey. The ending is not as straightforwardly happy as I would like for a character who has worked so very hard for it – but it does at least come to a place of peace, and the journey there is both thought-provoking and adventurous. I think it’s published for adults more because the tone is on the literary side and because of the squickiness of a few of the scenes – it’s low on the both the traditional violence or sex that would otherwise push a book into the adult realm.
This could also pair well with Cathrynne M. Valente’s Deathless.