The Waterless Sea: Book II in the Chanters of Tremaris Series
by Kate Constable
Published by Allen and Unwin
271 pages, 2003
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Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
The Waterless Sea takes us back to the triple-mooned world of Tremaris, where priestesses of the Goddess sing ice magic to keep the world out with a massive wall of ice and where other forms of elemental magic are either no longer used or are actively discouraged.
In The Singer of All Songs, Book I in the Chanters of Tremaris series, the young priestess Calwyn, together with an "ironcrafter" magic-worker called Darrow with a dark past, as well as companions picked up along the way had combined forces to stop an insane prince from becoming the "singer of all songs" who could perform all forms of magic and take over the world.
Now, some months later, Calwyn and her friends Mica the windworker, the mute telepathic healer Halasaa and a fisherman called Tonno have been busy attacking pirate ships to free enslaved windworkers. Darrow, who had been moody since the end of the last novel, has gone off to sea alone, for reasons he won't discuss with anyone.
But Calwyn and the others have their own quest, when a pirate captive -- an exiled desert clansman, begs them to help him rescue two children -- his adoptive siblings -- from their sorcerer kidnappers. The children had been taken because of their ability to perform magic, as is accepted practice in the Empire of Merithuros, where Darrow was brought up. The companions will have to go deep into the heart of Merithuros, far from the sea they know and into a land that is literally dying. They will find themselves facing a lot more than the problem of how to rescue two children...
In this book, we find out more about Darrow's past, his traumatic memories explaining a good deal about him. It is also indicated that, like it or not, Calwyn may be on her way to becoming the "singer of all songs." I suspect her unknown father will turn out to be the explanation for her abilities, and that all will be revealed in Volume 3, The Tenth Power. We'll see.
In my review of The Singer of All Songs, the first novel in this series, I compared Kate Constable's style with that of American writer Tamora Pierce. I still believe the series would appeal to lovers of Pierce's fantasy novels. There is a similar maturity of style. The author doesn't write "down" to her audience: the protagonists are young, but that's all. Calwyn is a woman and it's easy to forget she is only 17, as is Halasaa while Mica is even younger. Darrow is a grown man and the romantic interest, but this, too, happens in Tamora Pierce's novels.
There is no guarantee, in Constable's world -- or in Pierce's -- that characters won't die or nearly die, or go through the trauma of losing the magic that is a part of their souls. Young readers do like to think they're being taken seriously. Robert Heinlein once said his juvenile SF was so good because he wrote the best possible novel for adults he could and then left out the sex. Even this is not necessarily the case in modern young adult fiction, but the idea still applies. (There isn't any sex in this series, so far, but the reader feels there could be).
The middle volume of a trilogy is often in an awkward position: neither having the advantage of introducing the world, nor having the resolution. Despite this The Waterless Sea works surprisingly well and is, in my opinion, even better than its predecessor.
The Waterless Sea develops the world of Tremaris and takes you into the Empire created in the first novel. There are new characters, but only just enough to move the story on. Cleverly, it is connected with the first, but has a story in its own right. You'd do well to have read the first, but it doesn't feel like volume two of a single novel. Volume three can't come quickly enough. | August 2003
Sue Bursztynski is a children's and fantasy writer and librarian based in Australia.