The Waters Rising

The Waters Rising. Sheri S. Tepper. Harper Voyager, 2010. 512 pp. $26.99 (hardcover). ISBN 978-0061958878.

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Reviewed by Sara R. Tompson

[This review originally appeared in Mythprint 48:8 (#349) in August 2011.]

The Waters Rising (TWR) is a sequel to Plague of Angels, but it stands pretty firmly on its own, and a new reader to the series — according to the author’s website,, Tepper plans at least a third book, Fish Tales — should find it accessible. The wandering, slightly mysterious, but knowledgeable, Abasio from the first book is an important character in TWR, but enough of his history is revealed that he is not any more confusing than he is designed to be.

TWR begins with lists of characters and places, as well as a map. I used the lists initially, but the book is well enough written I was able to dispense with them fairly quickly. The map was useful in picturing the setting, though the locales where much of the early action takes place are in a geographically small area that Tepper does not enlarge on the map, so some areas are, frustratingly, omitted.

The book encompasses journey/quest and coming-of-age themes. The young person who comes of age in TWR is Xulai, a girl whom the reader meets via Abasio. He, along with his talking horse Blue (shades of Lewis’s Bree) is travelling further north than typical. Xulai is in service to an incapacitated princess of Woldgard who has telepathically asked Xulai to retrieve an object from the forest. The task frightens the girl as there are real and psychological terrors in the forest. Abasio helps Xulai gather her courage, she retrieves the object for the princess, who bids Xulai to swallow it, and then the princess dies.

Xulai and the princess’s husband, Duke Justinian who rules Woldgard, mourn, but also begin preparing to leave the area. Abasio and Blue remain at Woldgard, and we meet other key characters via them, particularly Precious Wind and Bear, two Tingawans from that far south island who are guardians of Xulai, who is also apparently Tingawan. It unfolds that the princess was cursed but withstood the effect for many years. Now her curser, presumably Queen Marami of the neighboring Ghastian Highlands, or her daughter
Alicia, may be coming after Xulai or the Duke.

The journey/quest to Tingawa is launched fairly quickly, with important stops and battles on the way for the fairly large retinue that accompanies Xulai. In a typical story arc, the travelers have internal squabbles, and the company splinters several times, with some members never to return. In the course of the journey Xulai sheds her childhood and suddenly becomes a young woman, which complicates her emotions and Abasio’s.

I thoroughly enjoyed the introduction, and particularly the journey portion, of The Waters Rising. The journey was exciting, and held my interest, and Tepper does a fine job of unfolding new wonders, terrors and information, especially through Xulai’s eyes. The narrator is omniscient, but we see mostly through the Tingawans, who are clearly the “good guys”, with some notable excursions into the minds of the evil women, who it turns out are not precisely human. There is a lengthy, satisfyingly horrific, subplot about these women and how they came to be created.

The latter third of the book, once Xulai and the others arrive in Tingawa, seems almost like a separate novel. The sections of the book could be tied together more clearly. It is in this latter section that Tepper reveals more about the setting, and we realize it is a post-Apocalyptical civilization, where the ice caps are melting and the ocean waters are rising. Tingawans, one of the pockets of civilization that have retained
some pre-disaster biological and technological knowledge, are working, often with sentient marine species, to survive the oncoming floods. Some of the work involves interspecies reproduction. Tepper is quite explicit about her sociopolitical messages in this section of the novel. I often agree with her (I first heard of her when she was a Director of Planned Parenthood in Colorado in the 1980s, and read her The Gate to Women’s Country because of that), but she can get just a bit preachy.

Per Harley Sims’s fascinating review of Mark Rosenfelder’s The Language Construction Kit in Mythprint #339, I would say that Tepper’s Tingawan language, smatterings of which appear throughout TWR, does not follow a language’s logic. It seems a bit Chinese, with the “sh” for x, but there are not enough words to be sure. However, the occasional word in another language lends a slightly exotic touch to the narrative.

The Waters Rising is a competent fantasy novel overall. It is a good read, despite some of the limitations discussed above. [Note: The Waters Rising is now newly available in softcover.]

The Waters Rising. Sheri S. Tepper. Harper Voyager, 2010. 512 pp. $26.99 (hardcover). ISBN 978-0061958878.

buy online

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