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The Water Thief by Jane Kindred
Sebastian was once the heir to a somewhat magical kingdom. But he was framed for his sister’s murder at a young age, and placed in a mental institution. His second cousin (shaky on family ties, but I think that’s right) Macsen was raised in his place, and has taken over as earl. Macsen is a pawn himself, though, in his father, Emrys’, schemes. Emrys is using Macsen to control the kingdom, and is stealing magic from Sebastian to control the waters of the place. Sebastian is accidentally freed from the asylum, and returns to his rightful place, but in the disguise of his dead sister. He wants to take back what’s his, but as he gets to know Macsen, he realizes there’s more going on, and more between them, than he thought.
So… This book and I, we just didn’t get along. I didn’t hate it. I actually thought it had a lot of really interesting potential. But for me, the potential didn’t pan out and I just… didn’t like it.
I think my biggest problem was with the characters. I did hate Sebastian. He had been traumatized and abused, and I felt bad about that, but it didn’t make me like him. He was still a jerk, and often for no reason. He was also pretty stupid. He let people take obvious advantage of him at every turn. When he did stand up for himself, he did it in the manner of a spiteful child. There just wasn’t anything that made me care about him. And he’s the main character, so this did not bode well for my enjoyment of the book.
In fact, the only character that I felt anything good for was Macsen, and mostly what I felt for him was that he was harmless but totally boring. He does some good deeds as the book progresses, and I think this is supposed to make us like him but he was just… dull. He could have been anyone.
The writing on a technical level was… weird. Sometimes very competent (clean, good dialogue, nice descriptions) and sometimes awful (random point of view changes from third‐person to first‐person? Don’t do this. Ever. It’s uncomfortable and not neat and pulls readers out of the story.) There was also the fact that almost everyone was pretending to be someone else, so we had two Sebastians and two Augusts, and nicknames, with everybody calling each other, sometimes seemingly at random, by different names. I could follow it, but it wasn’t fun.
The magic system and the idea that Sebastian’s kingdom or whatever it is was once part of our world but ‘sank’ was also really interesting. But it wasn’t done… right. The magic system was a bit random, kind of ‘I need this to work, so it does.’ And I didn’t understand how an entire city or more could ‘sink’ and not be underwater. Where did it go? A different plane? And how would rising it out of the waters return it to the original plane? Maybe I was being too literal, but I kept getting stuck on that. Honestly, if you captivate me with a tight plot and great characters, I’ll follow, even if the magic or world‐building is really wonky. But once I start disliking a book, I tend to see any other flaws in a glaring way, and that was what happened here.
There were also some VERY bizarre ideas about sexuality and gender here. I am all for playing around with these things. I think that they’re both a lot more flexible than people assume. But here, they were presented as very rigid. There were a lot of offhand comments about traditional gender roles, and the author seemed quite inclined to enforce these gender roles. Which, if you’re happy in a traditional role, that’s fine, but the broad enforcement of, say, women as weaker or as keepers of their husbands, bothered me. And the comments were so throw‐away, I felt like the author hadn’t really thought about who she might be hurting with those remarks, and hadn’t added them as part of the plot, but simply as something she felt.
And Sebastian and Macsen’s sexuality was a mess. It felt… weirdly homophobic. Sebastian was considered a ‘sissy,’ which made me shudder. Macsen refused to give a bj (after the first time) because ‘being penetrated’ made him weaker and less of a man. I felt like, if these were two characters in a very conservative setting (which they were) and they were exploring these issues together and working through them, it could have been very interesting. But they don’t explore them. Sebastian basically says, ‘yes, I’m less than a man because I take it up the ass, and it’s totally fine if you think that way, and no need to ever give another bj in your life’ and the author left it there. Which, I just… I just felt like… Like reading this could be so damaging. It enforces so many antiquated and harmful ideas and it just made me very uncomfortable.
The ending of the book also made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t clean and it felt wrong and untrue to who the characters were and how they’d thought about themselves for the entire book. And there were, I thought, easier and better options available for a happily ever after.
And if I want to get really picky, I don’t think I’ve ever read the word ‘damp’ so many times. At one point, Macsen even returns from dinner and says he needs to change out of his damp clothes. How did they get damp at dinner? A ton of sweat? These people are, like, perpetually wet.
So, yeah, this wasn’t for me.
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