Watergivers Trilogy, Book 3
Harper Voyager (2011)
Reviewed by Jason Nahrung
“Not all Reduners are coloured with the same dust.”
Neither are all fantasy authors cut from the same cloth. This volume brings to a close Glenda Larke’s third fantasy trilogy, and what an enjoyable journey it has been. The most striking element of Larke’s storytelling is the way, in all her series, that the landscape is rendered as not just a backdrop, but as a very real element in the societies she describes. In the case of the Watergivers, the environment is all-consuming. This runs all the way down to the characters’ curses, without ever feeling forced or twee. The societies are eminently believable, with economies, religion and social structures all shaped to some degree by the climate.
In the previous books, we’ve seen how the desert-dwelling Reduners have risen up to oppose the seat of power in the coastal Scarpen, intent on destroying the stormlords’ hegemony over the distribution of rain. In the background is a conflict of beliefs – Larke loves to explore the complexity of religion and the danger of fundamentalism – and issues of inter-cultural understanding and social justice (there are transgender and homosexual characters here, and varying degrees of cultural appreciation for the role of women, all handled with the minimum of fuss and no screaming slogans).
Larke has a talent for making each volume of a series a satisfying read in and of itself, offering a degree of resolution while the springboard remains for the following volume. The Watergivers series is no exception. Stormlord’s Exile could be read without reference to the previous two books, but the experience would be a shallow one and isn’t recommended. Still, you have to admire the crafty insertion of enough back story, without resorting to overt and hideous info dumps, to sketch what has come before. There’s also a glossary with names and terms, just in case you need a jog.
The risk of spoilers means some elements of the character arcs in this review have to be glossed over, but it can be said that family forms an important theme throughout the series. As one might expect from an epic fantasy, the Watergivers has a large cast, and there are numerous point-of-view characters, some carrying more weight than others. One of the interesting elements in Stormlord’s Exile is how the focus shifts from the arcs of the previous key players to those who have occupied more secondary roles.
To some extent, Shale Flint, now the Cloudmaster with the name of Jasper Bloodstone – notice how even names have a place within the environment-influenced culture – takes a secondary role in this volume. His story was to the fore in the first two, but here, the events in the sand dunes of the Red Quarter take pre-eminence over the political machinations going on back in the Scarpen Quarter. Terelle, Jasper’s lover, has her own quest to fulfil, but she also plays second fiddle to the world-changing events in the Red Quarter. Other point-of-view characters who have proved most entertaining, each with their own slice of tragedy and insight, fall by the wayside as events funnel towards the culmination of the story.
The result is that there are two climaxes in this volume: the battle to decide who will govern the Red Quarter, which has major ramifications for the whole Quartern, and Jasper’s showdown with Taquar, the traitor whose ambition sparked Jasper’s arc from peasant grubber to Cloudmaster. Their reckoning feels lacklustre by comparison to the tense, action-fuelled events of the desert battleground.
While Jasper does have a role to play in the desert war, the strongest conflict is between the Reduner leader Ravard and the noble couple, Ryka and Kaneth, who have both suffered terribly at the hands of Ravard’s army and now lead the struggle against him. While Jasper has become more settled in his role – power in his case does not corrupt, but it does harden – the emotional conflict between Ravard, Ryka and Kanneth has become raw and impactful. By comparison, Terrelle has had only to stay alive, so her emotional journey has been far more internalised, overshadowed by the grander plays afoot. It’s gratifying to see her using wit and empathy, and a little bit of cold pragmatism, too, to stay ahead of the game.
It’s also refreshing to see the bad guys having off days: messengers run late – some things never change – and plans go awry. There are some lovely, unexpected setbacks for both sides in this story that help to keep the pages turning as the various factions line up for their final conflicts.
In the culture clash of those from the arid lands discovering the rain-rich hinterland, there’s a warning for everyone about appreciating nature’s bounty and neither squandering it nor destroying it. But perhaps the greatest message is that love and compassion can overcome the most horrible of traumas, if we are but open to it.