Several years before the story opens, after his beloved wife Bethy drowned in a mysterious accident, Celtic musician Richard Brennan left Scotland for Australia, vowing never to return. Now, though, he must attend the funeral of his father after the latter's equally mysterious drowning. Returning to Sandwood, in Scotland's far northwest, stirs unwelcome memories for Richard. He returns to Australia but, plagued by ghastly nightmares involving water, cannot settle and is drawn back to Sandwood and the bothy, a stone cottage with a turf roof, where his father lived and, Richard learns, was beguiled in the last few months of his life by a mysterious, beautiful young woman. In the local pub, old MacKay glowers terrifyingly and tells hair-raising stories of the local selkies, or were-seals. Richard dreams a grisly vision of a drowned fisherman with gold earrings—possibly his Irish ancestor. He plays haunting music, with others and sometimes alone on the beach. And then one night he hears singing, and spies a tiny dancer on the sand beneath the moon: the bewitching Ailish, who comes seemingly from nowhere, has no past, and speaks only Gaelic.
So fluently and passionately wrought that the reader is often able to forget that it's obvious what's going on from the beginning. Fans of Charles de Lint, and others who relish the music/folklore combination, should be delighted with this debut fantasy.