Watermark: Mythic fiction with lush prose

Watermark by E. Catherine Tobler science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsWatermark by E. Catherine Tobler science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsWatermark by E. Catherine Tobler

Watermark (2014), by E. Catherine Tobler, is the story of Pip, a kelpie who is cast out of the Otherworld of the fae and into the human realm. Before that, she was being held in a tower in iron chains. She remembers very little before that; she doesn’t know what she was being punished for, or why she now finds herself in the town of Peak, Colorado, or why there was a dead girl lying next to her when she got there.

I first tried to read Watermark a few years ago and had trouble getting into it. I recently decided to give it another shot and … yet again had trouble getting into it. The early chapters of the book are confusing and sometimes frustrating, as Pip doesn’t know what’s going on and no one else will tell her either. The story moves quickly from one setting to the next, introducing a number of characters, most of whom speak cryptically to Pip rather than clearly. It’s hard, during the early going, to see the shape of the story.

This time, though, I decided to press on, and eventually the fog lifted somewhat. We learn that the Otherworld is dying, and that creatures from there are invading the human world — some of them dangerous. From there, the question is how and why, and what, if anything, can Pip do about it? Watermark is, among other things, a mystery.

Intertwined with this is Pip’s gradual recovery of her memories and her coming to terms with things she did in the past. Kelpies, in folklore, are not fluffy harmless fae, and Tobler is definitely drawing on the old bloody tales here. Pip has done some unpleasant things. But it might just be possible for her to use her powers to help save the Otherworld.

Tobler draws on fae legends both well-known and obscure, and clearly knows a lot about the topic. Her prose is beautiful and dreamlike, if sometimes just a little too abstract such that it gets in the way of clarity. Based on my colleagues’ many reviews on our E. Catherine Tobler page, it seems that (a) she just keeps getting better and (b) short fiction is where she truly shines. I will definitely be checking out more of her work. Mythic fiction with lush prose is right up my alley.

Published in 2014. Pip, a kelpie sent to our world as punishment, is forced into a human form. But she cannot even recall her crime—there are only fragments in her memory: a dead girl, a frozen lake, a heart taken. Welcomed by other fae, she discovers the fairy realm itself is disappearing. Their enigmatic leader believes Pip can save Otherworld—but she senses she cannot fully trust him. As she unravels the truth, she knows she can reclaim her true nature, but the human world may be the cost . . .

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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One comment

  1. I think I want to read this one.

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