Where The Waters Turn Black by Benedict Patrick
Posted Winter 2019
I was first introduced to Benedict Patrick /u/benedictpatrick through /r/fantasy. He was launching one of his more recent books (I can't recall which off the top of my head) and was doing a giveaway of his very first novel, They Mostly Come Out At Night. I wrote a review soon after I read it. I decided upon finishing that this was an author that I would follow, and vowed to read the next novels in his Yarnsworld series.
The review - 5/5
I have given several 5/5 reviews in a row - I cannot help it - I keep tumbling into quality writing. The issues I had with the first book were simply not present here. I did not have any issues with any of the dialogue, and the grammatical and punctuation errors (except for a very minor handful) have simply disappeared. The punch of the prose is stepped up - this sophomore effort sees Benedict hit his stride. I was very impressed and loved the book!
Benedict's novels are set within the Yarnsworld, a dark fairy tale setting. There is hopefulness throughout, tempered by a brutal reality. This particular book is set in a Pacific Island chain, and the protagonist is a young woman. It was as if the Brothers Grimm kidnapped Moana and took her off to some dark and dingy hole to buff off some of her sprightly trust in the world.
The story stars Kaimana, a young ocarina player who is part of a musical troupe. She has a vain and bitter rival in the troupe, a flautist named Eloni who is a stone cold beyotch right from the get. Right away, Kaimana gets tangled up with a taniwha, a monster who ends up surprising her with its temperament. I do not want to get any further into the plot, as it is definitely a wonderful story.
The world is vibrant - I got vibes of Moana, of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, of my limited understanding of Hawaii and New Zealand. It is a tropical paradise filled with vain and capricious gods. I absolutely loved the Maori mythology - I Googled a couple of the references and they checked out. According to Benedict's farewell to the reader after the tale is finished, he actually found inspiration for this story when he was down in New Zealand for a summer. It definitely shows. I am an enormous fan of mythology, but my knowledge of the Pacific island gods and heroes is quite limited. I felt like this book was an excellent introduction to the lore, and I am quite interested in discovering more.
Like I said, the story is dark. Hope gets dashed, over and over again, though I was happy that the story did not end as grimly as the first one. Revenge against Eloni is a long and slow burn, one that is quite satisfying with its payoff. The other antagonists, gods like the pig-faced god of war, Nakoa, are appropriately self-interested and miserable. Others, like Laka, are not quite as bad, but they aren't quite good, either. My favourite god, without a doubt, would have to be the comic relief-cum-deity Yam, who plays grumpy old bastard god of sweet potatoes and companion to Kaimana and Rakau.
I suppose I should speak about this relationship, because it is the one that drives the plot. Kaimana and Rakau, the taniwha, become best friends - a girl and her monster. They love and support one another and it is definitely the lightest part of the story. Rakau is a fearsome monster that has no problem chomping down on the pair's enemies, a proclivity that causes a bit of friction between the two. It does not last though, and the love that Kaimana has for Rakau eclipses even her own personal ambition. I liked that. It was a very sweet and human touch.
Benedict's books have a very unique charm. They are fairy tales through a glass darkly, suffused with an ambivalent type of magic that reminds me of genie spells or the charms wielded by the hags in MacBeth. This particular one will make you long for white sand beaches, verdant coasts, and azure surf, but it will temper that longing with some good old-fashioned fear of what lurks beneath the waves. Do yourself a favour and grab a copy.