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In Great Waters
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Amy | 36 comments Mod
Are you ready for this? Because this month’s book is going to blow your mind.

We are in historic England. My history isn’t nearly good enough to tell you which time of historic England, but around the time when kings were kings and politics were deadly and all the ruling lines of Europe have cross-bred with mer-perople.

What, that last bit didn’t happen in your history books?

Because here, in In Great Waters, things are not quite as you might expect. It is a fantasy book, after all.

Years ago—likely many, many years ago—legend says that the land-people of Venice and the mer-people of the surrounding sea waged a bloody war. Venice, losing, sought assistance from the crowns of Europe, and I forget which one came, but one did come—with war ships, prepared to take Venice for its own. And on that day, a mer-woman rose from the sea, naked and dripping, demanding an alliance with the land-people of Venice. Together, the Venetians and the local mer-people drove back the unwelcome Europeans—and the mer-woman demanded to marry the dude in charge of Venice and together they bred a line of super-people, which has been, more or less, ruling Europe ever since.

(Do not ask me how sex works in this book. I have no idea.)

The only land-people allowed to marry, or mate with, mer-people are the royal lines. To sit on a throne in Europe, you must have mer-people blood, so anyone found with mer-people blood who isn’t of the royal line is, by definition, a threat to the crown. Further, in a fascinating expansion of the historical inbreeding of the royal lines of Europe, Whitfield demonstrates, through terrible combinations of land- and mer-people qualities (a prince who must be constantly bathed in sea-water; entire lines of rulers whose legs are so weak that they cannot walk unassisted; a near-perfect prince whose only evidence of his mer-blood is that his last two fingers are each hand are fused), the price of inbreeding.

And into this fantastical history comes a boy, born of an illegal alliance between a mer-woman and a landsman, and a girl, a princess of the royal line of England. He is abandoned on shore by his mother, to be taken in by a couple who cares for him—and who raise him to challenge the throne. She is a younger princess, her skin an unnatural shade, who pretends to be dimmer than she is. Without giving anything away, you’ve never seen a revolution quite like this one.

In Great Waters is, fundamentally, a book about revolution: why they are necessary, how they occur, how the smallest choices can have the biggest impact. For example, the climax of the book turns on the timing of a negotiation between the challenger to the throne, an atheist, and the ranking bishop of England, over the wording of an oath. Whitfield cleverly draws her revolutionaries, not as noble or even necessarily right, but as canny and opportunistic. Much as this book isn’t your usual revolutionary tale, in some ways it’s absolutely your usual revolutionary tale: a resourceful man finds a likely challenger to the crown and builds a revolution around him. Things go awry, of course, but there are a thousand tales just like that sent in historic Europe: the rest just don’t involve mer-people.

This book will likely appeal to readers who adore Patricia McKillip, Pamela Dean, and Elizabeth Marie Pope. It has McKillip’s language, Dean’s reward for patience, and Pope’s history. If those aren’t your thing, you might still want to try it, simply because it’s such an unusual revolution book: all of the history, plus fins.

Amy


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