Sunday, July 7, 2013

Review: The Water Castle

When his father suffers a debilitating stroke, Ephraim Appledore-Smith and his family leave Cambridge to move to the Water Castle, an ancestral home he has never seen in the small town of Crystal Springs, Maine. The Water Castle, so named because of the once-thriving bottled water company run by Ephraim's ancestors, is large, old, and very odd. There are countless hidden spaces, secret passages, and entire rooms that don't seem to fit. Add to that a mysterious hum and flashes of blue light, and Ephraim and his siblings are kept busy trying to fathm its secrets.

For Ephraim, though, the most important thing to find is the original source of the water, once known for its nearly magical healing powers, and possibly even the fabled Fountain of Youth itself. If he can find the healing water, he can cure his father and make his family whole once more.

Megan Frazer Blakemore's The Water Castle is a well-crafted story that weaves together several storylines into a compelling whole. During his search, Ephraim is brought together with Mallory, the daughter of the hereditary caretakers of the castle, and Will, the son of a family that hates the Appledores. Much of the story centers around their family histories and attitudes, which often seem to be in conflict with the present generation. The plot is solid and fast paced, with a satisfying conclusion. I was particularly happy that the author did not feel the need to reveal the truth about Mallory's parents, allowing the reader to realize it on his or her own (or not).

Unfortunately, while the story is quite good, I did have a problem with the writing itself. There were many spots, particularly in the first few chapters, where I would suddenly be pulled out of the story. There were some awkward phrases, but the more common issue was a case of Blakemore explicitly telling how a character was feeling or what he or she was thinking, rather than demonstrating it more indirectly. Perhaps years of concentrating on "show, don't tell" have made me overly sensitive to this, but I think it could be an issue for more casual readers, even if they do not understand why the writing sounded a bit off.

Overall a very nice story, but I feel the execution could have been better. Four out of five.

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