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In Great Waters    by Kit Whitfield order for
In Great Waters
by Kit Whitfield
Order:  USA  Can
Del Rey, 2009 (2009)
Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Kit Whitfield's fantasy, the people of Venice allied with deepsmen, led by a sea woman named Angelica, to fight invaders. She became their queen. Her descendants ruled alongside the monarchs of Europe, anxious to form similar alliances to safeguard their vulnerable coastlines from attack. Now Europe's rulers all share deepsman blood. But, to protect the royal houses, coupling between landsmen and sea women is forbidden - any bastards who result from such forbidden unions are burned at the stake.

In Great Waters opens on a young deepsman named Whistle, an intelligent weakling whose mother eventually pushes him onto an English shore and leaves him there. Allard, who finds the feral five-year-old, takes him home and raises him secretly. Calling the boy Henry, Allard forces him to walk upright with the help of canes and to wear clothing. As Henry grows and is taught history and the arts of war, Allard brings a nobleman to meet him, along with his son John. John becomes Henry's friend.

While they grow up together, readers are introduced to Princess Anne, younger daughter of England's heir, Prince William, and his Magyar princess Erzebet. Anne's face is phosphorescent, making her shy and retiring unlike her elder sister Mary. The country has been ruled by Anne's grandfather Edward for forty years. His second son Philip is a weak-minded mutant. When William dies in battle, the succession is at risk, as women are not considered fit to rule alone.

When Anne is thirteen, a young deepsman bastard is discovered in Cornwall and executed, an event that becomes the 'beginning of the end' for the current royals. After her mother is assassinated, Anne is determined to find the killer. This quest leads to her discovery of Henry's existence, but only after he has determined to stop waiting for others to decide his fate and has taken action himself. Henry and Anne find they have an enemy in common.

What impressed me most about the story was the author's detailed development of what it would be like to live in the ocean and for a deepsman to make the transition to life on land - the impact on mobility, as well as the deep differences in language and culture. Whitfield also does an excellent job of portraying Anne's means of coping with her differences and with perilous court politics. If you're looking for something very unusual in alternate world fantasy, then dive right in to In Great Waters.

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