A Sweet Sting of Salt

Rose Sutherland

Random House, 2024

Agent: Jill Marr

When a young woman in 19th century Nova Scotia uncovers a magical secret about her neighbour, she’ll have to fight to keep the truth—and the woman she now loves—safe in this stunning queer reimagining of the classic folktale The Selkie Wife.


When a sharp cry wakes Jean, the sole midwife in Barquer’s Bay, Nova Scotia, in the middle of the night, she’s convinced it must have been a dream. But when the cry comes again, Jean ventures outside during a terrible tempest and is shocked by what she discovers—a young woman in labour, barely able to speak a word of English. Jean can only assume she must be Muirin, the new wife of her neighbour up the road, but when the baby arrives, Jean is only left with more questions. Why is the baby so unusual? And why is Muirin’s husband so fearful of his wife and newborn son spending time by the sea?


Though Jean learned long ago that she should stay out of other people’s business, her growing concern—and growing feelings—for Muirin mean she can’t simply set her worries aside. But when the answers she finds are more surprising than she ever could have imagined, and the truth about Muirin’s mysterious behaviour reveals her marriage may not be all it seems, will Jean be able to set things right and save the woman she loves before it’s too late?


"Both folkloric and true to life, A Sweet Sting of Salt invites us hearthside for a mesmerizing yarn. Sutherland plunges us into the forbidden desires of 19th-century hearts, then rescues us with the deepest kinds of uniting love. Her vibrant depiction of the Nova Scotian shore fills our lungs with salted air and imbues us with a yearning for the sea." —Gwen Tuinman, author of Unrest.

"Sutherland has crafted a modern fairytale as harsh and beautiful as its Nova Scotian setting, melding the gorgeously rendered love story of her heroines with the realities of queer life when such love could rarely be openly expressed. A masterful work, A SWEET STING OF SALT will linger in my imagination as vividly as any bit of ancient folklore, long after the last page." Laura R. Samotin, author of the forthcoming The Sins on Their Bones 


“A gorgeous tale of sapphic yearning laced with a slow-building sense of Gothic dread. Sutherland’s captivating debut is an intensely beautiful experience you won’t soon forget.” — Paulette Kennedy, bestselling author of The Witch of Tin Mountain


"Rose Sutherland’s debut A SWEET STING OF SALT captures the delicious coziness of warm socks and tea by the fire as a blizzard rages outside. She brilliantly weaves the stark atmosphere of coastal 19th century Nova Scotia as a complement to lonely midwife Jean and otherworldly Muirin. Their initial prickly relationship is smoothed and polished as they allow their outer layers to fall away and show a depth of true compassion and what it means to love without conditions. Sutherland’s thoughtful prose mirrors the environment, dotted with echoes of Bronte-esque romantic longing—but with heroines who have the inner strength to determine their own happy endings." —Maureen Marshall, author of The Paris Affair 


"A SWEET STING OF SALT masterfully combines rich historical detail with an atmospheric, poignant romance between two unforgettable women that will sweep readers off their feet. For fans of feminist retellings and queer fairy tales, Sutherland’s debut is a must-read." —Allison Epstein, author of Let the Dead Bury the Dead


"Rose Sutherland expertly mingles poignancy with slow-building tension in her gorgeously written sapphic take on the selkie wife folktale. Sutherland does not shy away from the implicit cruelty in the original tale, but leans into while also giving her selkie wife agency and allies: this is a retelling with bite. Filled with fierce, unforgettable characters and sweeping landscapes, A SWEET STING OF SALT is a stunning debut from start to finish. Sutherland is most definitely a writer to watch." - Molly Greeley, author of MARVELOUS


“Wild and windswept, like it’s setting, A Sweet Sting of Salt is a subversive, lushly romantic historical retelling of an age-old folktale.” -- Olesya Salnikova, author of The Witch and the Tsar

"... literary fiction likely to be on many lists of the best books of the year–not just the best LGBTQI+ books of the year, but the best, period. ...already scoring with readers and those critics smart enough to seek it out." Parade magazine

"A sensuous queer love story for fans of foklore and fantasy." Library Journal 

“Sutherland’s breathtaking debut is a moody, tense, queer love story, loosely based on the Scottish folktale The Selkie Wife. The intense, passionate connection between Jean and Muirin is breathtaking, and both women’s determination to escape Tobias’ cruelty leads to shocking instances of subterfuge. Readers who enjoy fiction inspired by fairy tales and folklore will be entranced.”—Booklist, starred review

"Sutherland’s winning debut, set in 1830s coastal Nova Scotia, creates a cozy queer haven in an unforgiving but subtly magical environment. Fans of folkloric fantasy should check this out." --Publishers Weekly

 "The novel is a striking, beautifully written love story set in a world of finely portrayed details." Judith Starkston, Historical Novel Society