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IN GREAT WATERS By: Kit Whitfield March 11, 2010

Posted by lycan librarian in book reviews, Books and reading.
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   — Rejoice! Spring is here, dear patrons! There are huge flocks of  grackles and red-winged blackbirds at the Moonlit Library’s bird feeders. —

      The Lycan Librarian is a believer in all things fantastic. Some people believe only in that which can be proven, but others among us will continue to believe in all that cannot be disproven. Perhaps that is why, as I read IN GREAT WATERS, I kept having to remind myself that I was reading fantasy, not historical fiction. More likely, reminders were necessary because Kit Whitfield is a fantastic writer who brings her race of deepsmen so vividly to life. The deepsmen are people who had come from the oceans in the 9th century to live in the waters of Venice and could, therefore, either protect the shores or disrupt trade for the landsmen. They have tails, pale skin, very sharp teeth, their own language, and, of course, their own tribal community and pecking order.  Low on this order is Whistle, born with legs rather than a tail, a product of a deepswoman and a landsman.

    The deepsmen and the landsmen have long interbred, and there are pacts between them, controlled by the mixed race hybrids, who are able to maintain communication between both races.  These mixed children can be identified easily, as, instead of the mighty tails that steer them through the ocean’s depths, they own weak and sometimes useless legs, and their skin is of a unique pallor. The heavy medieval tone of this piece adds richly to a tale that is an observant and intelligent twist on European history.

      The heirs to the British throne in this novel are both female, so when Whistle is eventually shunned and abandoned on a beach by his mother, he is taken in by a man named Allard who renames him Henry, teaches him to speak the landsmen language, eat their food and use some of their weapons. He is raised, coached and groomed with the plan that he will usurp the king’s throne. Whistle, or Henry, is one story, but there is also Anne’s tale to tell, as both are cast headlong into being pawns in the politics of the court. Anne is royalty, with the water bloodline that had been weakened by inbreeding — an amusing parallel to some of  history’s most terrifying realities when only the royals were considered worthy of producing heirs for the throne. (In this novel, Philip, in my opinion, is both the most amusing and most horrifying product of the inbreeding.)  

     Give yourself time to be enthralled with the book, because at first Henry is not likable and one wonders why such caring patience is extended to this creature who shreds everything in sight and hurts anyone who gets too close. But then again, as this is shown through his point of view, the reader understands why he acts as he does, although I daresay that even knowing his thoughts, few of us would volunteer to take him in. (Of course, as you have already read this, and now know Allard’s intentions, you may not wonder why such measures were taken. The Lycan Librarian read the book before she read the jacket copy or any reviews, as is her habit.) It is no chore to stick with the reading of this novel, though, because the intriguing nature of this new, yet somehow familiar race won’t allow you to discard it. As always, the Lycan Librarian has written and then erased much in reviewing this book, because it is a far richer experience to allow this alternate history to unravel as one reads, rather than to expect certain things to happen, and then wait for them.   This unique novel examines the coming of age for the protagonists, the isolated Anne and Henry, and the reader does root for them. The ending can only be described as inevitable, or perhaps, convenient, but it is a truly original, enjoyable and memorable journey one must take to arrive there.

     The Lycan Librarian would love to hear from any rabid fantasy readers who partook of this book. I thought it read much like literary fiction — one of my favorite genres, so am curious as to how a fantasy fanatic would receive it. (Although I suspect most readers will vastly enjoy it, no matter how it is pigeonholed.)

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