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May 2003
© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits by Robin McKinley, Peter Dickinson
Ace / Penguin Putnam Trade: ISBN 0399237968 PubDate: May 2003
Review by EJ McClure

266 pages List price 18.99
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WATER: Tales Of Elemental Spirits is one of the most engaging anthologies I have had the pleasure of reading. Never mind that I’m an Aquarius. Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson have won numerous awards for individual works, but this is their first joint venture. Long overdue, I say . . . but it was worth the wait. From the first page I was spellbound by the fluid prose, taut plotting, and richly-textured characters they introduced.

"Mermaid Song" is the tale of Pitiable Nasmith's journey to womanhood and freedom in a small colony clinging to the shores of a new world. As an infant Pitiable was abandoned to the care of her grandparents, Probity and Mercy, who raised her in the usual way of the People: chores, lessons about the religious persecution that drove her ancestors from their ancestral lands and church twice on Sundays. It was a hard, narrow existence, but Pitiable, knowing no other life, was content. On her deathbed, Mercy entrusts her granddaughter with the strange tale of a long-ago encounter with a people who dwell not on land, but in the sea. The secret lies like a seed in Pitiable's heart, until one day it takes root, and an act of mercy provides Pitiable the key to her escape.

"A Pool in the Desert" is another tale of love and escape. After waking up with sand in her bed after a nightmare about being rescued during a sandstorm in the Great Desert of Kalarsham, Hetta does what any self-respecting heroine would do in modern times; she runs an on-line search at the local library to find out if this dream-land really exists. To her delight, she learns that Damaria is a real place. Unfortunately, getting there isn't as simple as booking a ticket at the travel agency; Hetta’s dreams have been taking her back in time, as well as across space. She tries to resign herself to the drudgery of doing the books for the family furniture business, but the dream refuses to die, and one day Hetta risks her life to follow it

The breath-taking image of two lovers binding themselves together before leaping overboard to escape capture by pirates compels a young princess of the mer-folk to attempt a daring rescue. Self-sacrifice is the theme of "Kraken;" self-sacrifice to love and duty. To her horror, Ailsa soon comes to realize that her impulsive decision has roused an ancient danger that threatens not only herself and the doomed lovers, but also her father’s kingdom. Now Ailsa must decide how to protect what she so innocently endangered.

The originality of vision, crisp dialogue and vivid narration make every one of the six stories in “Water” a masterpiece in miniature. This slim book would make a terrific gift for a young adult: the heroines are courageous and clever, and while they face plenty of challenges, there is nothing in the book you'd be embarrassed to explain to a pre-teen. And I’d pick up a copy for myself while I was at the bookstore. I eagerly look forward to the rest of the books planned for this elemental series: Earth, Air and Fire.

sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes)© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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