Title: The Well Between The Worlds
Author: Sam Llewellyn
Idris Limpet of Westgate is a happy, carefree 11-year-old who has no thought for his future until one of his friends lets malice go too far and Idris finds himself exiled from Westgate and lucky to be alive. Rescued by House Ambrose to be a monstergroom, he must master the craft of capturing monsters fished up from the Wells to another world. Even as he tries to make his place, he’s troubled by the poisonous waters that are flooding the land every time the Wells open, and the nobility that cares only for wealth and power.
This book was a surprise: a fantasy that blends a very ocean-oriented kingdom with an otherworldly ocean. I loved the sea-names for people and places, and the focus on water (and the monsters that lurk in the deep). These alien creatures can speak to minds, change (or appear to change) their shape, and burn when they dry out. And they burn very, very hot, so much more so than any known substance that an entire industry has grown up around using the monsters to fuel various bits of machinery. But to fish for the monsters, Lyonesse needs to let in the water, and the water is sinking the land.
And into this questionably moral structure tumbles Idris, a boy from a fisherman’s village who has no problem catching fish, but is more and more unsettled by the catching of monsters. His transformation over the course of the book is its main attraction: how can honor and justice and right prevail when most people simply aren’t interested in changing the status quo, or are actively working to preserve it?
But lest my words give the impression that this is solely an educational story, let me quickly add it is a fine adventure. The fact that the other world is an underwater one makes exploration difficult, but Idris comes to learn much about that place and its denizens. He has his own share of mindspeaking magic, and he’s not without allies as he navigates the treacherous streets of Wellvale.
Oddly enough, the story is also a retelling of the legend of Arthur. I’m of two minds about that part. It’s certainly the most innovative take on the mythos I’ve seen, but at the same time, certain characters who didn’t get names changed feel a little too predictable since I’ve read Arthur legend before and have a pretty good idea what’s going to be coming. Still, this is taking enough liberties with the basic outline that there are plenty of surprises (Idris getting attacked by a giant seagull, for one).
The ending was a little frustrating until I realized there is a sequel and this was never intended to stand alone. So overall it’s an excellent read. The setting is well-drawn, particularly with the way the little details line up across the story. Idris is noble without being stuffy, a boy and a true hero: someone who freely helps others and does it secretly, so that most of them don’t even realize he’s done anything special. And now I am going to have to see if I can’t get my hands on the next book to resolve that cliffhanger . . . I rate this book Highly Recommended.