Review of WATERSMEET by ELLEN JENSEN ABBOTT
(first in the WATERSMEET series)
Shunned by her village for her dark skin, Abisina has grown used to her life in the shadows. She lives in an overtly bigoted society that outcasts anyone who strays from a specified physical ideal. She’s not without bitterness, but you could say she’s found peace with her lot in life. Until a tyrannical ruler comes to her village, warning everyone against tolerance, spreading the fear of spiritual repercussions unless they cleanse the village of the toxic outcasts. In the course of one speech, Abisina’s harsh life goes from one filled with bullying and insults to a full-fledged fight for survival. Her mother speaks of an impossibly wonderful place called Watersmeet where they’ll be safe. It sounds too good to be true, but at this point Abisina doesn’t have anything to lose by striking out in search of something better.
Thematically, this is a story about prejudice above all else. War also plays a big role, but that ties in with what happens when people start dividing into groups and facing off against each other. Though a victim of prejudice herself, Abisina doesn’t recognize her own narrow-mindedness as she strays out into the bigger world full of all kinds of people (or creatures, in the case of a fantasy novel).
I stumbled over one major revelation later in the story, because I couldn’t follow the leap of logic that led Abisina to her correct conclusion. It felt too much like the character knows this now, because the author needs her to know this now. How she suddenly knew something with such certainty that struck me as random threw me out of the story.
This is the first in a series and, though I gripe and grumble about last minute realizations that I’m reading a first book rather than a standalone, I admire how WATERSMEET feels like both. There’s a satisfying story arc and as well a fulfilling ending, with only the faintest hint of more story to be told. I suppose it’s really first books with sudden cliffhangers that send me into fits.
Without spoiling too much, Abisina learns by the end that she may have won one battle, but not the war. Especially if we’re talking a war against prejudice. That’s a long, complicated war potentially impossible to ever “win.” But Abisina intends to do her best.