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Monday, November 10, 2008

"Deep Water" by Pamela Freeman (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Official Castings Trilogy Website
Official Pamela Freeman Website
Order “Deep Water
HERE (US) + HERE (UK-October 2008)
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Blood Ties

INTRODUCTION: I first found out about Pamela Freeman’s The Castings Trilogy on the SFFWorld Forum when the trilogy was compared to another fantasy series that I had been greatly enjoying. Intrigued, I checked out an excerpt, loved it, and ordered a copy of “Blood Ties”, the first book in the series. Luckily I discovered that the sequel, “Deep Water”, was soon to be released in the UK, so I ordered a copy of the book immediately.

Robert reviewed “Blood Ties
HERE and I used his review for this one, adapting some setting paragraphs from it, while also referring to it for the background of Ash, Saker and Bramble. Since “Deep Water” is the second book of a trilogy, there are some inevitable—though minor—spoilers regarding “Blood Ties”, so reader beware…

SETTING: The Eleven Domains is a land that was conquered by Acton and his warriors a thousand years ago. Since that event, the Domains have become predominately populated by the fair-haired, blue-eyed People of Acton and governed by military/noble leaders called “warlords” while the original inhabitants—recognizable by their darker hair, darker eyes and different skin tones—have been forced into a nomadic life as Travelers and are treated with deep prejudice by the invaders' descendants which they mostly return with gusto. Since the conquest, the two races have mixed together quite a lot, so even though there is much racism and mistrust between the Travelers and Acton's people, many of the inhabitants are defined more by their lifestyle—settled or nomadic—rather than their blood.

Further defining this world are gods who closely interact with the people through stonecasters/fortunetellers who use casting stones to see the future, enchanters/sorcerers, prayers and those blessed with the Voice or Sight. Then there are the ghosts. Unable to move on because of rage, guilt or some other powerful emotion, these spirits linger in the realm of the physical rather than letting themselves be reborn in another life and have been Quickening for so long that they are a part of everyday life. Usually the ghosts are harmless enough, but as we found out in “Blood Ties” there are evil spells in the ghosts' bones that allow them to interact materially with the world—in particular, allowing them to kill. And since they are already dead, these ghosts are hard to harm or stop.

There are also some free cities that enjoy independence from the warlords and act as a kind of nexus for the Domains as well as quite a few “magical” places, including a Lake, a Forrest, a River, an Island and more.

In “Blood Ties” we followed the POVs of Ash, Bramble and Saker with important apparitions by Martine—a middle-aged stonecaster that Ash saves and befriend—and Leof, an officer of the powerful warlord Thegan that enters Bramble's life at a festival horse race. In “Deep Water”, both Martine and Leof get their own POV chapters in addition to the three mentioned above, while other important characters include Acton, Thegan, Safred “The Well of Secrets”, Zel and Flax (the children of Bramble's mentor Gorham), and a mystery character at the end that may have an important role in “Full Circle”.

FORMAT/INFO:Deep Water” stands at 467 pages divided into many short chapters—some only one page long—that are either narrated in the third-person after one of the main POVs (Ash, Bramble, Martine, Leof, Saker, and a special appearance by Safred) or are narrated in the first-person via the story of a minor character that played a relatively important though transient role in one of the novel's threads and whom, in presenting his/her motivations through his/her own voice, sheds a lot of light on some very important aspects in the book. Bramble's thread mostly follows Acton's life 1000 years ago through vignettes obtained by Bramble's “spirit” inhabiting one contemporary of Acton or another, all of whom were touched by the Gods, so in a sense Acton is also a main POV.

Also included in the book is a map at the beginning and various goodies at the back of the novel such as an interesting interview with Ms. Freeman entitled “Why I Hate the Olden Times” and an excerpt from “Full Circle”, the last volume in the Castings Trilogy. The ending comes to a natural stopping point with a minor cliffhanger similar to the one in “Blood Ties”, while perfectly setting up events for “Full Circle”.

October 2, 2008/November 12, 2008 marks the UK/US Trade Paperback publication of “Deep Water” via
Orbit Books. Cover designed by Darian Causby with images provided by Bridgeman/Getty.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: Writing a middle book in a trilogy is a tricky proposition. Usually the first book is the setup and the hook while the third book is the climax. So many times the plot meanders in a middle novel, nothing essentially new is introduced, and nothing is resolved.

However, there are series that deviate from the norm either by making each book almost self-contained while moving up the ladder in scope—like going from a local threat to a global one—or deepening the context of the tale while adding new dimensions such as important new characters. The Castings Trilogy is of the latter type and “Deep Water” is one of the best written and constructed ‘middle novels’ I have ever read…

There are three legs on which “Deep Water” stands as such an enjoyable novel. One, the characters—especially Ash, Martine, Leof, and Bramble/Acton—are drawn so well that it’s easy to imagine them as real people with an existence outside the boundaries of the novel. In “Blood Ties”, Ash and Bramble were growing up from young misfits into potential world saviors, but here their fate takes an unexpected turn that makes them much more interesting. The addition of Martine and Leof as main POVs is masterful, while Acton steals the show as both the coldblooded warrior out of legend and a compassionate freedom-loving leader. It is absolutely fascinating to see how Ms. Freeman squares the “two” Actons, keeping true to reality and legend simultaneously. Even Thegan shows some hidden depths, though he is still mostly a stock villain. Saker disappoints somewhat as a main villain, though it is interesting to see Thegan—the other villain—as his enemy rather than the “forces of good”. Still, despite how important Saker is to the story, he is mainly a secondary character in terms of face time…

The second leg is the intricate world building and plot. While the universe of “Blood Ties” is not expanded externally, it is much enlarged internally, showcasing added complexity, hidden depth and unexpected places. The plot in “Deep Water” meanwhile, like “Blood Ties” before it, splits into many threads, scattering our heroes around the Domains, but end up unifying to a large extent at the end while setting up the table for the grand finale.

And finally, there is Ms. Freeman’s charming and fun writing style which makes such a complex book as “Deep Water” easy to follow and enjoy.

In conclusion, I highly, highly recommend Pamela Freeman’sDeep Water”, while “Full Circle” has easily become one of my most anticipated releases of 2009…


Pamela Freeman said...

Since I've just finished the first draft of Full Circle, it's good to know there are people out there who want to read it! Thanks for the review - it's always fascinating to read how others see your work (and it seems like a masterly analysis to me!). FYI, there will be a standalone novel in 2010 set in the Castings universe, but it will definitely NOT be the 'fourth book of the trilogy' - it's set some time later and involves different characters.

Robert said...

Thanks for the comment Pamela! Can't wait for "Full Circle" and that's great news about the Castings standalone novel :D


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