The Waterless Sea: Book Two in the Chanters of
Tremaris Trilogy, by Kate Constable; Arthur
A. Levine Books: New York, 2005; $16.95
Before I even begin writing this review, let me tell you, the glorious reader, about my two beliefs concerning fantasy novels.
First, there is such a thing as sappy fantasy In fact, there are so many sappy fantasy novels that it could be called a genre unto itself Sappy fantasy can usually be recognized only by a true fantasy connoisseur, such as myself; however, there are a few defining marks: 1) the main characters of sappy fantasy novels are always beautiful or handsome; 2) elements (such as orcs, goblins, elves, the "Gift," etc.) are stolen from other true fantasy novels and are entwined into the literature.
My second belief is that you can always tell how good a fantasy novel will be by reading the first paragraph. If the book starts out by describing (a) the sunrise/the sunset, (b) a woman who is not the main character, or (c) clothing, 99 percent of the time, the book will be a sappy fantasy story
The Waterless Sea fits none of these requirements.
Unlike books such as Eragon (and now, Eldest) or the Alanna series, which perch precariously upon the brink of the cliff which leads down into the cavern of sappy fantasy, The Waterless Sea sits far removed in a secluded hamlet in the realm of true fantasy—a realm which is steadily shrinking.
Kate Constable's characters are bold and daring, yet not without weakness. One of the book's main characters, Darrow, is deathly afraid of the responsibilities of leadership, mainly to try and prove to himself that he is not who his former-friend-now-archenemy, Samis, claims he is—a man hungry for power, a cohort in Samis's quest to conquer the land of Tremaris.
Yet the character who intrigues me the most is not Darrow, for all of his quiet strength. I am most interested instead by Calwyn, a young girl who grew up on a sheltered mountainside, yet who always dreamed of adventure. In this way, both Calwyn and I are alike. My home is an idyllic place—quiet, peaceful, and really very boring. I dream of traveling and going beyond just what I can see by taking the bus or walking out my front door.
Just like Calwyn is, however, I fear that I will be disappointed by what I fmd there, wherever "there" may be. Calwyn dreams of the world as an exhilarating adventure abounding with opportunity and hope. What she finds is a sullen, twisted, reproduction of the world that existed in her imagination—where she is hated and despised for her ability to sing the ancient magic instead of loved and respected, where women are downtrodden and meek instead of considered men's equals, where the rulers are corrupt and greedy while the poor starve in the grimy coastal towns.
I fear that something like the disappointment that Calwyn went through will also happen to me . . . instead of the lush jungles that I imagined I will find burning stumps of trees; instead of soaring towers and turrets of ancient castles, I'll find swarming tourists and graffiti. Perhaps I am too naive in my assumption that everything beautiful will stay as it is . . . but at least to protect the dreams of children we should be making more of an effort to make that which is beautiful also permanent.
I recommend this book to readers aged nine to twelve. Also be sure to read The Waterless Sea's prequel, The Singer of All Songs.