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The Waters Rising: Plague of Angels #2    by Sheri S. Tepper order for
Waters Rising
by Sheri S. Tepper
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I'm a long-time fan of Sheri S. Tepper (my favorites of her works being Beauty and The Gate to Women's Country) and have long considered her one of the all-time best SF writers. I found The Waters Rising rather different from her previous works in that, though it is science fiction, it has a strong fantasy feel to it. But all the magic in the tale has ancient science at its roots.

It's a quest story, in which young Xulai (whose early life has been hidden from herself and her enemies) gradually discovers who she is and how she will change her world (endangered by waters rising) forever. Opposing those who guard Xulai are the powerful minions of the Old Dark Man, a Terminator-like relic of the past, who seeks to destroy humanity in accordance with his creators' will. The story takes place eons after the Big Kill, 'when people died by the millions.' In the west are the small kingdoms of Norland, steadily encroached upon by coastal waters and isolated by the Sea King's embargo on oceangoing traffic.

The Waters Rising opens on the arrival of wanderer Abasio and his talking horse, Big Blue, in the land of Wold, where they encounter a young Tingawan girl, Xulai. She informs them that she is 'the Xakixa, soul carrier, for the Woman Upstairs', Xu-i-lok, wife of Justinian, Duke of Wold. The dying Duchess has been cursed by Alicia, Duchess of Altamont (who has access to ancient machines and is the daughter of vile Queen Mirami), but is able to communicate mentally with her Xakixa. She presses Xulai to do something important for her. After Abasio helps the fearful Xulai to perform Xu-i-lok's will, the Duchess finally rests.

Afterwards, for her safety and to permit her to fulfill the duty of a Xakixa, the Duke of Wold sends Xulai, along with her protectors, Great Bear and Precious Wind, to make their way back to Tingawa by 'a long, slow way' via the abbey of Wilderbrook. Abasio and Big Blue accompany the party, which suffers several attacks by Alicia's forces. They are foiled by Precious Wind and by new abilities that Xulai manifests. Overcoming these and other challenges, Xulai and Abasio finally reach Tingawa, where the Sea King reveals a new world and assigns them a key role, but first they must defeat the Old Dark Man.

The Waters Rising, a remarkable story that only Sheri S. Tepper could write, portrays a post-apocalyptic world in which all of Earth's creatures - even humans - are offered a chance at survival. If you enjoy speculative fiction, it's not to be missed.

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