Book Review: Song of the Sea Maid

Thursday 25 June 2015 by

Song of the Sea Maid, Rebecca Mascull, Book, Hodder & StoughtonSong of the Sea Maid by Rebecca Mascull

Published by Hodder & Stoughton

In the 18th century, Dawnay Price is an anomaly. An educated foundling, a woman of science in a time when such things are unheard-of, she overcomes her origins to become a natural philosopher.

Against the conventions of the day, and to the alarm of her male contemporaries, she sets sail to Portugal to develop her theories. There she makes some startling discoveries – not only in an ancient cave whose secrets hint at a previously undiscovered civilisation, but also in her own heart. The siren call of science is powerful, but as war approaches she finds herself pulled in another direction by feelings she cannot control.


In truth, it was the title that intrigued me. Song of the Sea Maid is the second outing by Rebecca Mascull and tells the story of Dawnay Price, a natural philosopher out of her time. She has treacherous ideas in a world that believes that God created the world, and it means death to question that.

But Dawnay is determined to explore her boundaries, and so goes to Portugal to uncover the mysteries of history. But she finds herself wrapped up in something greater than ancient mysteries. She finds love – forbidden and unlooked-for.

This is an entertaining story – told in first person present, it is immediate and starkly honest. But it is a simple narrative, which is ultimately a love story, rather than an adventure story. Dawnay is a strong lead character, but ultimately she is lead down a predictable path by her heart. The present tense mean this is a quick, light and easy read, with entertaining characters and an interesting concept. After all, it works on the basis that we believe the same as everyone else, and know nothing of creation and the origin of humanity.

It’s charming, really. Dawnay’s frustration and anger, her total love, and the concept of humanity that she builds creates a realistic 18th century world that you can engage and enjoy.

But this is not plumbing the depths of intellectual literary investigation. This is a fun romp through London, Portugal, Minorca. Through evolution, God, love. You can skim through the pages at a great rate, with a smile on your face. It’s joyful to read. I guess I was disappointed with the ending – It could have finished half a page sooner and been better for it. But it felt like it was tying a bow in the story, finishing it completely, and that makes sense.

It is a brief sojourn in to escapism (isn’t that just what a book should be?) and it flickers in to life as you read it. But it equally finishes as you close the book, and it is not one to linger.

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