17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2005
I've been a fan of McKinley's writing ever since I randomly selected "Spindle's End" off the shelf at the local Borders, and so when I discovered the collection of short stories put together by her and her husband Peter Dickenson (all based around my favorite of the four elements), I was thrilled.
Once again, Robin has not let me down in her production of fantastic tales. From the hopeful, innocent, and adorably naive Sea-King's Son to the continuance of her famous Damarian stories, I was sucked into the worlds that Robin creates once again and came out the other side with a smile on my face.
Peter Dickenson's stories were a delightfully dark contrast to Robin's upbeat and cheerful writing style. I admit that, at first, I found his stories to be slightly dry and slow (though The Kraken was wonderful), and even left off reading Sea Serpent for boredom. However, just this past week, I decided to give the story another go, as it was the only one in the book I hadn't read and I was desperate for new material. It took me but a few pages to realize that he was, in fact, writing about one of my favorite subjects: Arthurian Legend. I'd read in one of the other customer reviews that they felt that the gender-issues presented in this story were never fully explained. They must have, however, not caught the obvious references to Merlin, Stonehenge, the English Channel, and the battle between Christianity and Paganism (the male Church vs. the priestesses of Avalon). After seeing the connection, I paid closer attention to the story and, while it didn't become my favorite, it certainly raised my opinion of Dickenson as a writer.
Overall, the stories were well worth reading and were a great source of entertainment and enjoyment. I can only hope that the pair will release a book for each of the other three elements. Congrats Robin and Peter, you did a great job.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 24, 2005
On the whole, I was drawn into RM's stories more quickly than PD's (my favourites are "The Sea King's Son" and "The Water Horse"), although after repeated exposure I've developed some liking for two of his three. McKinley's stories herein seem to me to have more detailed and polished world-building. None of the six, to my knowledge, have been published previously.
"Mermaid Song" (PD) Setting = very like Puritan New England. (I'd have enjoyed it more if PD had simply made it an alternate Puritan history.) While the mundane setting may be off-putting at first, the sea-people's introduction is well handled when it comes. In a way, this is two stories - a family tradition (handed down from mother to daughter) and the story of the protagonist, young Pitiable Nasmith, left with her maternal grandparents upon her mother's death in childbirth.
Near the end of her life, Pitiable's grandmother tells her the story behind the most unusual of her songs - how their ancestress Charity Goodrich really survived shipwreck upon arriving in the new world as a girl. Although the People's culture isn't fleshed out much, the first contact scene between Charity and her sea-children rescuers is realistically detailed. In a neat reversal of some sea-people stories, the air-breathing person was a pet, kept in an undersea cave with no way out.
The present-day story turns grim when the grandfather takes to drink after his wife's death, which seems to have quenched what little of his heart survived his daughter's passing. Eventually he takes to walking along the seashore, and finds something that only Pitiable has learned to recognize, shaping up to a possible reversal of the secret tradition.
"The Sea-King's Son" (RM) Jenny, only child of a well-off farming family, grew into shyness as she grew up, and never let on that she had fallen in love with Robert, a good-looking younger son of another farming family from a village on the far side of the harbour separating the small towns they live in - a harbour under a curse by the king of the sea people, to avenge an injustice inflicted by the land people in the days when the two races had dealings with one another (though only a trade in luxury items, never friendship, each race considering the other too alien to grow close to). But when Jenny's parents make plans to send her away to the city for a season, in the hope that she might shake off her shyness, and perhaps find a good husband, Robert finally makes a move - for love of Jenny's inheritance rather than for her. But late in their courtship, Jenny makes an unannounced visit alone to Robert's family home, and what she learns there is more terrible for her than any ancient tale of sea-curses, and drives her onto the shortest road home - the direct route across the harbour.
"Sea Serpent" (PD) I was disappointed with the initial scene-setting, although the wave-riders eventually won me over a bit. The conflict between the New religion's chief god and the Old's chief goddess comes to a head as the builder of a new temple seeks building stone taken from the goddess' shrine (which seemed unoriginal). The magic-working temple-builder forces the neutral wave-riders, worshippers of the Sea God, to help transport the stones. The details of the minutiae, practical politics, and ethics of the wave-riders' work make the latter portion of the story a decent read.
"Water Horse" (RM) "This island is a strange place...a threshold between land and water; and the boundary between us is striven for, and fought over, and it shifts sometimes this way, and sometimes that...it is over this one island that the war is fought, and if once we yielded, then all those lands behind us - farther from the boundary we protect - would immediately come under threat, and they have no Guardians. We are the Guardians; and here we hold the line." So says Western Mouth to her inland-born apprentice, Tamia, who began her training at fourteen as do all apprentices, and can't help worrying that she's not really suitable for the work. But Western Mouth was a very old woman by the time Tamia came along...When Western Mouth has a stroke five years into Tamia's apprenticeship, the defenses are torn open, allowing a creature of sea-magic to slip through that Tamia must face in her Guardian's stead.
"Kraken" (PD) Somewhat similar to "Mermaid Song", although the two humans swept into the water are saved by more supernatural means and for more complex reasons. The protagonist, a young sea-princess indulging in her last rule-breaking before coming of age, runs serious risks to try to return them to the upper air.
"A Pool in the Desert" (RM) The only Damar story herein - not surprising, for a country bordered by desert in the more recent ages of the world. The protagonist, a present-day Homelander (not unlike our own present), begins dreaming of a time so far in Damar's past that it has become legend, and finds it far more like home than her parents' household, with their stranglehold on their children.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2003
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I am a major Robin McKinley fan. What I love best is her facility with the English language. For someone who reads with an internal ear to the music of the written word, her prose is rich with melody and grace.
If you expect Peter Dickinson's writing to be like McKinley's, you will be disappointed. His voice is very different - a sparer cello & oboe melody compared to her dancing flutes and trumpets. It's not better or worse, but it is different. His stories are more stark. The themes are darker. But they have their own beauty.
I also really enjoyed the one Damarian tale. As McKinley's writing has matured, her female heroines have become less fairy princesses, and more survivors who find it within themselves to meet challenges and endure. Her heroes also have a few more realistic warts. This story is about a survivor. A woman who keeps her soul intact against all odds, and ultimately finds it within herself (with her sister's encouragement) to follow her dreams and change her destiny. I also liked that it was set in the present day. Perhaps there's just to much realism in it for some - we all know creeps like Hetta's parents - but I think that makes it even more satisfying. Who needs dreams more than those whose reality is a prison?
In any case, if you read the book, read it one story at a time, and enjoy the changing voices.
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2002
This book contains six short stories, three by each author. They all have something to do with water and the spirits or powers therein. "Mermaid Song" tells of poor Pitiable, who lives a wretched and abused life with her grandfather, and who discovers a mermaid trapped in a shallow pool by the receding tide. "The Sea-King's Son" tells of a land girl who falls in love with a water man. "Sea Serpent" relates of the woes begotten by a viscious serpent conjured by a woman on her betrayers. "Water Horse" being another oppressed girl who is chosen to apprentice one of the Gaurdian's of their island. "Kraken" relates the tale of a merprincess who rescues a man and his lady love from drowning, only to have to give them and herself up to the Kraken. "A Pool in the Desert" speaks of yet another oppressed girl, who dreams her way into Damar.
I personally had never read any of Peter Dickinson's work, but if these stories are any example, I wont be. His stories are oppressive, and his characters are colorless, his descriptions unenthusiastic. I dutifully read each story in turn, but it was very difficult to keep from skipping his. I absolutely adore Robin McKinley on the other hand. Unfortunatly, her work also seemed to contain a very depressed vein. Her other books make you feel for the characters and the land. They are rich and vibrant, I never wanted "The Hero and The Crown" to end, while I felt like I was slogging through these stories. "Water" should not be used as a judgement of her talent. For the die hard McKinley fans, it ought to be read simply for her contributions which, while not her best, far exceed Dickinson's attempts. If you are looking for Mckinley's short works I highly recommend "The Door in The Hedge" or "A Knot in the Grain". Both of these easily surpass "Water".
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2006
I picked up this book because it featured Robin McKinley's stories. She is a highly talented author.
Peter Dickinson's stories are on the most part drier and more brittle than McKinley's smooth, tautly woven prose. He lacks the beauty and mystery of McKinley's writing, but he introduced a fine piece in The Kraken, which is well worth the read.
McKinley, on the other hand, displays three well-turned stories that further her reputation as a writer. She never hesitates to flirt with old myths and legends, drawing on their ancient mystery, and spinning out new tales that combine old stories into her imaginative prose. Her writing is never forced or overdone. Each is seamlessly woven and smooth.
She features three stories, but The Pool in the Desert is definitely the gem of the entire collection. It tells of a girl's longing for a place she can visit only in her dreams. She falls in love with the dark sentinel of the desert, and yet she cannot stay in Damar, but is drawn back each morning to her dull life and her domineering parents. Her longing for Damar overcomes her humdrum life and she finds a way to journey to the place of her dreams. Overall, a strangely wistful but powerful story.
I'd say that the Pool in the Desert is probably the only one that shines. Water is definitely worth the read, if only as an introduction to Robin McKinley's writing.
44 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2002
If you are thinking of reading this because you want to read new stories by Peter Dickinson, be my guest. If you want to read this because you've heard that there is a new story about Damar, or you love McKinley's writing don't get your hopes up. This collection is flawed with any number of problems, the two largest being -
Problem number one: Peter Dickinson. I've never read any of his novels but from the short stories I read here, I won't be buying anything by him anytime soon. Boring, plain and simple. Assessment: Taking up valuable space that should feature McKinley.
Problem number two: McKinley is a very gifted writer, her Damarian books are among my all time favorites because she knows how to use language and she creates compelling,action-oriented female protagonists who get to have their fairy-tale wishes come true and have some adventure too. Aerin and Harry are both troubled girls, partly because of who they are. They both go on journeys of self-discovery where they rely on themselves (with a little help from their friends) and conquer their fears as well as their enemies. And that is why her last story, A Pool In the Desert is such a disappointment.
We have a down-trodden daughter Hetta, in a patriarchal household who is being suffocated by her souless existence of cleaning house, taking care of her mother and giving up everything she wants in deference to her father. In a classic McKinley tale, the daughter would discover that she needs to do something, would screw up her courage and take some action to make things better, preferably by getting herself a good horse and a magical sword. Instead she drifts around, passively accepting until she has a dream where she somehow ends up in Damar. Discovering this wonderful escape she longs to return, but isn't able to summon up the resources to do much about it.
So basically she moons after this guardian she meets and mopes around until she manages to fall head first into a pool of water, is magically transported to Damar (back in time, too)and lives happily ever after.
McKinley's newest Damar story basically betrays the wonderful and strong heroines of her past novels and for that there can be no excuse. Hetta is pathetic. She escapes yes, but she doesn't confront her circumstances, actively seek a way out or seem to worry at all about the fate she abandons her younger sister Ruth to. She is the apothesis of everything McKinley's previous heriones have stood for and I can't understand why she chose to write this lackluster, heretical story set in, of all places, her beloved Damar.
The only partially redeeming thing about the story was the twist at the very end, which I won't give away for future readers, as to how her sister discovers that Hetta achieved her escape. The rest of McKinley's stories rate equally low on the disappointment scale in that I didn't care an iota for any one of the characters and was bored.
Assessment: Strictly for hardcore McKinley fans who must read everything she's written.
15 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2002
I eagerly waited for this book and its new tale of Damar. My wait was not worth it. Dickinson's story's were vastly pointless, with gaps in the plots and no real endings. Every time I finished reading one, I found myself thinking, "That's it?" After the tedious story centering around would be Puritans humming with mermaids I nearly put the book down, but I bought it as a McKinley fan and my anticipation for more of her work continued to grow as I impatiently read Dickinson's works.
Maybe it was coupling her work with her husband's, but expecting McKinley's stories to be filled with romance and adventure, I was disappointed. It was almost as if she cut out the love stories to match Dickinson's loveless tales. There was little plot between her action, for all that these were short stories. While the Damar story did mention Aerin, Tor and Luthe and give a glimpse at Damar's history (basically proving it to be India as long suspected by fans) it seemed disconnected. The main character seemed a modern day "Homelander" but her love interest seemed almost to be in the stone age before Aerin for all that McKinley tells us he came 15 generations later.
It seems having built up a mythic land, McKinley can only tear it down. Waning in Harri's time, Damar was once a great land. But we find in this book that it fell completely to the Homeland and then with independence was forgotten.
Read this book only if you want to have all McKinley's works. If you are looking for a grand Damarian adventure or any fantasy romance, wait for her next novel.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I like this book because it is well told. Robin Mckinly fosters courage in women as well as men. My whole family enjoy her books immmensly and they have been especially useful when times have been very stressful.
on January 9, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This six-story anthology focuses mainly on waterways, water creatures (such as mer-folk), and the people who interact with them. But the last story was different. Remember The Blue Sword? Did you dream of finding your own way to Damar, and having a hill pony and a wild life of formality and feudalism all your own? Well, in "A Pool in the Desert," Hetta starts dreaming her way out of the drudgery of her life, and finds out that maybe, with hard work and hard belief, she could win the dream as reality.
I picked up this book because I loved Fire. While Water does not have the same strength in its stories, they are still good, interesting, entertaining, and sometimes even haunting. I recommend it to people who enjoy McKinley's wandering words and spiral stories.
on May 15, 2007
This book consists of 6 short stories- 3 by Mckinley and 3 by Dickinson; as indicated by the title they all center around water. Mckinley is by far the better author, but Dickinson's contributions are worth reading as well. I always enjoy reading Robin Mckinley's short stories because they are self-contained and provide the reader with a full story. Many authors make the mistake of writing a short story as if it were a single chapter in a novel; Mckinley does not fall into this trap (which is odd, given the multitude of loose ends that exist in some of her more recent novels). This book is definitely worth the price, especially for a Mckinley fan.