Carousel Seas is the third novel in Sharon Lee’s Carousel trilogy, after Carousel Tides (2012) and Carousel Sun (2014). Like its predecessors, it’s set in the small Maine seaside town of Archer’s Beach, a town that’s home to rather more strangeness than most of its residents suspect. For Earth is only one of several worlds in a chain of magic in the universe: but Earth is the Changing Land, where things can alter their nature, can change and grow, and that makes it both dangerous and useful to powerful people across the worlds.
Kate Archer is the Guardian of the Land for Archer’s Beach, connected to it by ties she can’t break and charged with its protection and preservation. She’s also the last survivor of a magical lineage from another world, and—potentially, at least—something of a magical heavy hitter. But in all likelihood, that won’t be enough to protect her or Archer’s Beach, should the Wise—the people who control, essentially, the gates between worlds, among other things—discover that Kate was complicit in a magical jailbreak.
But as Carousel Seas opens, Kate has other problems uppermost in her mind. Her dayjob is as owner-operator of the family carousel at the Archer’s Beach funfair, and in that role she’s part of a group of town residents who’ve been trying to get the funfair management to agree to open for a longer season—only to learn that Management are planning to sell the land on which the funfair stands to developers, putting Kate and many of her friends and neighbours out of work. To say nothing of her relationship with Borgan, her counterpart, Guardian of the Sea for the Gulf of Maine: they’ve finally begun to rely on each other as lovers as well as friends. A state of affairs that is somewhat disrupted when an old and powerful sorceress with limited people skills takes up in Borgan’s waters, allies with his enemies, and starts trying to seduce him. What affects the sea affects the land, and the power-struggle in Borgan’s domain has repercussions for Kate’s.
There are, it turns out, plenty of repercussions to go around.
Carousel Seas, much like its predecessors, is an unusual sort of fantasy novel. Although a quick description could easily make one think it could be classed as urban fantasy—it does, after all, take place in a town—it really isn’t concerned with the things that normally define an urban fantasy: the anonymity of the city, the problems of violence, community and isolation, to say nothing of the usual interest in crime and terrible romantic attachments that make up urban fantasy’s bread and butter. No: Carousel Seas, though it has epic conflict lurking in its background, is far more concerned with small-town problems. Employment, gossip, re-homing feral cat colonies, continuity, family and friendships and local relationships are by far Carousel Seas’ largest concerns. Kate’s most pressing worry is how to keep the funfair open, after all—that, and fulfil her obligations to everyone and everything she cares about.
It makes for a rather cosy novel, comfortingly local even when it’s hopping between worlds and threatening catastrophe. Easy to read, and in possession of characters with whom it’s easy to empathise: I have to say I enjoyed it, and I’m sorry to see this trilogy come to an end.
Carousel Seas is available now from Baen.