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Book Review: Deep Water by Pamela Freeman

Genre: Epic/High Fantasy
Paperback: 512 pages
Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: November 12, 2008
ISBN-10: 0316035637
ISBN-13: 978-0316035637
Author Website
Castings Trilogy Website
GFTW Interview with the Author

As sequels go, Pamela Freeman’s Deep Water is neither one to highly praise, nor one to vilify. It is not exceptionally exciting, nor does it move the plot of the Castings Trilogy forward immensely. Yet at the same time, it builds more of the world of the Domains, dives deeper in the psyches of Bramble, Ash, and Leof, and builds a better history of the racial tension which exists between the Travelers and Acton’s people.

In this sequel to the popular Blood Ties, Freeman picks up right where she left off. Bramble, Ash and Martine have arrived at the doorstep of the Well of Secrets, but she is not all she was cracked up to be. For reasons that were not wholly clear to me, Bramble must seek out a local altar to discover the burial place of Acton. His bones are important for stopping the necromancy of Saker in some way. After she does, she is forced into a trance which takes her through perspective after perspective, vignette after vignette of the life of Acton. As she does, she comes to understand Acton – a man who she never met but despises anyway – in a better light.

Bramble spends the majority of the novel in this trance. It is an interesting way to incorporate a world building history with character development. It is a different style of writing execution from the standard Obi-Wan-Kenobi-esqe wise sage who tells us the history of the world. Bramble actually lives it, and changes her assumptions in the process. The racial tension between Acton’s people and the Travelers is given a reasonable and logical explanation in the visions the trance provides. It does not, however, move the plot very far forward in its looking back. I always enjoy reading the history of a world, so this part of the story was quite a fun read for me, but some readers may feel that the lack of apparent plot progression a negative rather than a positive.

Ash, on the other hand, must go on a journey to a place not previously a part of the story, where he can learn the songs his father had not taught him. He and a young Traveler spend most of their time being chased. Unlike Bramble, Ash doesn’t change very much, though he does learn more about his power to command spirits.

Finally, Leof moves through the story as the observer for the actions of Thegan, warlord trying to unite the domains under his rule. I believe that Freeman focused on Leof because he will play a very large role in the final novel, one that readers will probably be able to predict after reading Deep Water.

The novel itself is formatted in much the same way the George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is. The names of characters title each chapter, and each is told from the perspective of the titular character. Freeman continues to write stories within stories about some the incidental characters. These are the minor characters who intersect with the major players, but whose own stories show their value as more than fodder for the writing mill. This was one of the features I most enjoyed about Blood Ties. Being able to learn about the people, about the unimportant characters who are the ones most affected by the events surrounding them, and whose minor roles make the major characters able to do their jobs. It was this unique style of writing that first made me recommend Blood Ties to readers, and is again one of my primary reasons for recommending Deep Water.

The other reason is the themes that Freeman is writing. Like many epic fantasies, destiny plays a role. Freeman’s story is about the effect of destiny on a character, as Bramble and Ash in particular follow their separate ones. But it is interesting that Freeman attempts to keep those destinies open to interpretation by only allowing them to be revealed through the casting of stones. It is as if Freeman is acknowledging that while a person may be destined for greatness, the route there is taken through choices made by free will. The interplay is subtle, and many readers may think that Freeman is writing a standard destiny story, but I think otherwise. Only the final book Full Circle will be able to tell us which.

The other theme is the racial tension between Acton’s people and the travelers, and while some readers might decry the particulars of this tension, it is a continuing and important source of tension for the novel. It might even be considering the primary “problem” of the trilogy. As a reader, I hope that Freeman doesn’t resolve this tension in an easy and pat manner like a Disney movie. Whether she will or not remains to be seen, though indications are that she might be, a thing which would sadden me. That is not to say that things cannot end well for the characters, just that reolution to the problems should not be easily rectified. But that might be an effect of a children’s writer writing for adults. Adults are going to see some of the “lessons” of the story right away. Unfortunately, the book is too adult – with its free love and homosexual characters – to be read by anyone not in their teens. Yet that style of writing is a great part of what makes reading Freeman so enjoyable. Though her novel is for adults, it has the easygoing style and cadence that made reading other novels aimed at teens enjoyable when you were a teen. Like Harry Potter or Eragon it is the approachability of the works which makes Freeman a joy to read.

I like Pamela Freeman’s work. She has a comfortable style of writing that is not challenging, and she keeps her characters interesting. I am still a little confused about the relationship between the natural and supernatural in her story. Yet her microcosms of life in a world where ghosts come to life, and nature has personification, are consistent and practical. The very ordinariness of the sprit world’s relationship to the human worlds reminds me of the work of Gail Z. Martin. These two writers could very easily share a fan base. All, in all, Pamela Freeman’s Castings Trilogy is everything I want in an epic fantasy, and while Deep Water has a bit of “middle book” syndrome, it is still an enjoyable and fun read. I recommend it and its prequel Blood Ties.