Injured on duty and no longer fit for active service, soon-to-be-ex-Coast Guard Bran Kaulana is drifting, filling his days helping out at the Wai Ola Rescue Center, one of Honolulu’s wildlife charities. He’s working with the new veterinarian, Steve, a man drawn to O’ahu by his fascination with dolphins. As their friendship slowly deepens into love, the two men are caught up in the mystery of injured seals and dolphins, a ruthless gang of smugglers and a not-so-dormant undersea lava vent.
Chris Quinton has conceived and skillfully composed a beautiful story set against the idyllic backdrop of the island of Oahu. The plot of Sea Change encompasses several storylines: The day to day operation of the Wai Ola Rescue Center, the mysterious appearance of injured dolphins and seals at the sight of a shipwreck near the vent of an underwater volcano, and a romance that overshadows everything else. Each storyline does succeed to varying degrees, but as a whole, it’s Bran and Steve who made this book simply wonderful for me, and that’s where I’ll focus the review.
Brandon Kaulana is a Coast Guard hero who was injured in the line of duty during an encounter with Somali Pirates in the Gulf. Left with the lingering effects of his injury and the recent loss of his lover in a car crash, Bran finds himself adrift and in the limbo of an uncertain future. Volunteering at the Center, Bran’s friends are also his family, having been shunned by his own after coming out to his father years before. Bran’s “family” consists mostly of well intentioned but meddlesome “sisters” intent on finding him a new love, and the affection and friendship the team feels for one another is entirely genuine. There is early interaction between Brandon and his half brother, Lee, but otherwise Bran’s biological family remains in the periphery.
Steve Lucas is a newcomer to the island. Steve is adrift in his own way, ever seeking but never finding that certain woman who’ll make him want to establish roots in any one place. Steve realized early on that he is bisexual, but had since settled on the idea that happiness for him would be found in a traditional relationship. Steve is a veterinarian whose fascination with dolphin behavior has led him to Oahu, where his skill as a vet and immense compassion for all manner of land and sea creatures also has him lending his expertise to the Wai Ola group’s efforts. Bran and Steve’s friendship is sealed after the discovery, rescue, rehabilitation, and release of a group of mysteriously injured sea creatures in an area that is legally off limits to human traffic.
This is where Sea Change absolutely excelled for me. From the moment Bran and Steve began to interact, I was entirely invested in, not only their budding friendship, but the slow and patient way in which Chris Quinton teases the reader with all the obvious ways these two men belong together.
For those who love a deeply explored illustration of characters and the many levels in which a relationship builds, Sea Change is a feast. Bran and Steve’s romance is not a 12 foot crest off the North Shore, rather it’s the gentle ebb and flow of the tide in a quiet cove, where the lapping of the waves are an invitation to relax and enjoy the sensation. I found myself thinking, as the tension slowly built, “This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last”. – Oscar Wilde. I wanted Bran and Steve to explode with passion, yet I knew logically that to do so would be inauthentic to both the story and the characters. The closeted Steve needed time to explore who he truly was and what his feelings for Bran, an openly gay man, were evolving into. Bran needed time to heal from the loss of his lover and establish that he truly was ready to move forward, never believing that doing so with Steve was conceivable. Each man does attempt to connect with others, but they do so with little success.
I suppose it can be said that “love is blinding”, as it can leave the two people involved in a state of disorientation until the blinders are removed which, in Steve’s case, happens when he’s overcome by a wave of jealousy that nearly overwhelms him and exposes the depth of his feelings for Bran. Theirs was a relationship that felt genuinely earned and based on a solid and authentic foundation. The message in their story is clearly that home isn’t merely the place where you store your furniture and clothes, rather it’s the place where the scent of your lover’s cologne lingers, it’s the sensation of waking up to the feeling of a warm presence next to you in bed, and regardless of where you are and how content you are at the moment, home is always the place you’ll prefer to be when you know someone you love will be there waiting for you. It’s not the structure itself, but it’s the feelings that inspire the need to be grounded and to feel your life intertwined with another that makes a home.
As I’d said at the outset, there is more to Sea Change than the relationship between Bran and Steve. The rescue and release efforts on the part of the Wai Ola Center awakened my love and fascination with dolphins and the truths and myths surrounding their intelligence. The mystery involving the mercenaries and the looting of a shipwreck in US waters lent suspense to the story, but in the end, it was the romance that elevated this book to a thoroughly absorbing read for me.
Review by Lisa