My sister refers to this type of book as “Grandma died/disappeared and left you the family home and a whopping big mess in the basement/attic/surrounding landscape to clear up.” Carousel Tides by Sharon Lee is that kind of story, with a big helping of “you can run from your responsibilities in life, but you can’t hide.”
Carousel Tides is contemporary fantasy. I can’t call it “urban” since it takes place in a small town in coastal Maine, and I’m not sure “rural fantasy” is an acknowledged sub-genre. It’s a town where Trenvay creatures — selkies, Black Dogs, and other creatures of land and sea — exist. Some of the townspeople know about them while most people just live their normal lives without being aware of the supernatural. Reading Carousel Tides reminded me of Fantasy Life by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Same small-town feel, with fae creatures co-existing with the townsfolk but only acknowledged by a few.
Kate Archer is a Guardian. She has spent years trying to deny her powers and ignore her duties to the land by leaving town and refusing to return. Until now. Grandma has disappeared, leaving behind a cryptic letter and the family business: a carousel in the local amusement park. Along with all the usual horses and swans, there are a few figures on the ride with magical powers. The responsibility of keeping them tied to the carousel and their powers under wraps is part of the family legacy. In addition to trying to track down and possibly rescue Grandma, Kate also finds herself dealing with drug smugglers, a nasty new neighbor and the need to have the carousel up and running weeks ahead of schedule.
Kate is surrounded by an interesting set of characters. There is the taciturn coffee shop owner, the woman who helps her ready the mundane portions of the carousel, the couple who own the Chinese food stand at the amusement park, various Trenvay creatures and Borgan — the hunky guy she meets on the beach her first morning home.
Sharon Lee takes some standard fantasy tropes — the orphan girl, lost grandmother, handsome prince and fairy creatures — and weaves them into a story that sweeps readers up and takes them along for the ride. This is the kind of story you’d tell around the fire on the beach as the fog is rolling in.
I enjoyed Carousel Tides. Anyone who has spent time in a foggy, coastal small town can hardly help but believe in selkies and other magical creatures — and if they exist in our world, this is where they would be hiding. The story is nicely paced and I was glad to go along for the ride. And if Sharon Lee decides to write another story in this world, I’ll be first in line with my ticket. I might even ride the bat-winged horse.