In Great Waters is a fantasy book that transforms the history of Europe by adding in the presence of mermaids. While the book is not without it's faults, what ends up keeping it afloat is its strong characterization and unique portrayal of mermaids. While popular culture (such as Disney's The Little Mermaid) tends to portray mermaids as beautiful or graceful, In Great Waters treads a different path. In the ocean, they may be powerful predators, but since even half-human fins were not designed to hold them upright on land, they are at a distinct disadvantage, dependent on canes (or in a few scenes, crawling) to get around. Combined to the fact that generations of inbreeding among the monarchs have left some of them mentally handicapped as well, the result is a cast of characters that strays far from heroic fantasy archetypes. In response, Whitefield pushes readers further out of their comfort zones by not always making her two protagonists all that likable. Despite his time in the human world, Henry never really loses the animal-like edge he first cultivated while growing up in the sea, eschewing human practices such as reading and basic courtesy. Princess Anne feels more human, but it does take time to warm up to her as well. I personally found both of the protagonists to be fascinating due to the fact that they were so unique, and was highly invested in their development as a result.
Although the fantasy parts in In Great Waters seemed to be executed quite well, I felt that the historical fiction elements didn't add all that much to the book. When this book was supposed to take place was never really properly defined (at least given my knowledge of English history, which admittedly does have some holes). At times, I felt as if the author could have taken out the names of places like “England” and “Venice,” replaced them with the names of fantasy countries, and not much would have changed. I was also skeptical of certain plot twists, such as how easily people in this world seem to be willing to give up on their established monarchs for complete strangers.
In Great Waters is a unique tale of historical fantasy. On top of enjoying the characters and the portrayal of mermaids, I liked how the story was so unpredictable. There were cases where the exact opposite of what I expected ended up happening. I did have some issues with the historical fiction elements and storyline, but I ultimately found it to be a good read. I will be reading more novels by Kit Whitefield in the future.
Rating: four stars
Length: 416 pages
Source: Lewiston Public Library
Other books I've read by this author: this is my first
Next I will be reviewing The Traitor in the Tunnel by YS Lee
xposted to temporaryworlds, bookish, and goodreads