The Waters Rising: Did Not Finish

Sheri S. Tepper The Waters Rising fantasy book reviews Sheri S. Tepper The Waters RisingThe Waters Rising by Sheri S. Tepper

It pains me to DNF this book. Sheri Tepper is one of my favorite authors. Her novel The Family Tree is one of my all time favorite books. But I can’t make myself continue reading The Waters Rising. I have tried for over a month to read this book, and the same thing happens every time — I find my attention wandering after about five minutes. I think this can be attributed to three different things.

First, if you’re going to set a story on future Earth, you’re bounded by Earth’s physics and geography. The world in The Waters Rising is being submerged. Most of the world was left devastated during an incident called The Big Kill, a technologically-environmentally driven collapse of most of the world. Genetically engineered creatures now roam the wilderness with no natural predators to stop them, and technology has basically disappeared from among the survivors. What differentiates this from other dystopian futures is that there is a new disaster arising — the water at the center of the earth is starting to emerge, causing continued flooding and the loss of more land. As the water leaks out, land is falling into the cavities left behind, causing more land loss. One character, talking about the extent of the new flooding refers to Misspi as having been submerged. Now, I have no problem if you want to create a world where you actually have water emerging from the core of the earth, but according to my high school earth sciences class, this world isn’t built like that. The basic scientific discrepancy left me cold, and made it impossible for me to submerge (haha) myself in the story.

Second, and more importantly, I don’t care about any of the characters. The villainess, as far as I can tell, is EEEEEEVILLLLLLLL. That’s about her only distinguishing characteristic. We know she is evil because she is sexually active, aggressive, manipulative in seeking her own advantage, and driven to acquire wealth and standing. I don’t think this story would work if she was a man. There is no nuance to her or to any of the characters. The protagonist is boring and perfect, when she isn’t being a ninny; the supporting characters are uni-dimensional and, I’m afraid, stereotypical. As far as I can tell, the heroine and her people are the remnants of the Chinese or a conglomeration of the remaining Asian peoples. Of course, they are also mystical, possessors of ancient knowledge, and technologically advanced. I found the stereotypical nature of this insulting. It just felt tone-deaf from an author who is typically very politically astute in her writing.

Third, it bugs me when authors attempt to create tension by withholding information, because then it is confusing. You should be able to build tension with the story, not by obfuscation. I don’t know what mysterious organization the male lead is a member of, or the purpose of that organization, or who he is taking orders from and why. If he’s there on a mission, it would be nice if we at least understood why he is there. (The Waters Rising is marketed as a stand-alone novel set in the world of A Plague of Angels, not as a sequel.) The way it read made it feel like the beginning to a badly written D&D campaign, where the dungeon master hasn’t worked out a back story, so all the adventurers meet in an inn.

I think the most damning element is that I haven’t mentioned a single character by name. Wanna know why? Because I can’t remember a single character’s name. I’ve been reading this book for a month and I don’t know the characters’ names. That’s not a good sign. The female lead’s name starts with an X, but without going and looking at the book, I can’t remember them. So, as much as it hurts me, this Tepper novel is not going to get finished. I think I’ll go reread The Family Tree to get the bad taste out of my mouth.

Long ago was the Big Kill, a time when the slaughterers walked the earth unseen, killing, departing, returning to kill again and again. Since then mountains have risen, deserts have fallen, the last of humankind has scattered; myth, superstition, and legend have replaced knowledge; and the great waters rising are changing the world. In the west, the people of Norland live in small kingdoms, unaware that a hideous evil from ages past has been revived. Powers are being used. Curses are being laid… and the waters are rising as never before. As forests drown, swamps become lakes, and roads disappear, houses — whole towns — are hitched to teams of oxen and moved upward. Misery is compounded when the Sea King declares war. No ships may sail on the new, growing oceans, and refugees from sunken islands continue to arrive. And in Norland a cursed princess fights death, awaiting the one who can save not her, but perhaps humanity. She is tended by one fearful young girl, her servant and soul carrier, Xulai, a child of her own kind from the mystical kingdom of Tingawa. Upon her mistress’s death, Xulai must return to their homeland to fulfill a sacred mission. Accompanied by her protectors, Great Bear and Precious Wind, and guided by the mysterious wanderer Abasio and his talking horse, Big Blue, the band begins a journey to this land across the western sea where the waters’ rising has long been expected. Their odyssey, fraught with peril and wonder, is long enough for plans to be made that are so strange, so audacious, that they are instantly dismissed; plans so potentially successful that an ancient killer must be awakened to stop their fulfillment. Deeply original in scope and vision, The Waters Rising is a daring and remarkable work of fiction from a master of the craft.

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

View all posts by Ruth Arnell (RETIRED)


  1. It’s always extra disappointing when it’s a favorite author that hits your DNF button. I’ll be giving this one a miss.

  2. I’m still plodding away at it, but I think the elves come and move my bookmark backward when I’m sleeping. I just don’t seem to be progressing.

  3. 03723259409408960385 /

    Looks like someone shared your opinion about the pokey start of this one:
    I finished it but I’m a huge fan, and I don’t think it was one her better ones.

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