Title: Water Keep
Author: J. Scott Savage
Marcus has always dreamed of a place he calls Farworld, where animals talk and amazing things happen. But he never expected to find Farworld was real, much less that an evil in that world wants very much to kill him. Or that, crippled as he is, he might have a part to play in saving that world. On the run with Kyja, a girl from Farworld, the two must somehow escape the Dark Circle and uncover their destinies.
This is in many ways a tired trope: an orphaned child is sent to another world, where he discovers he has power, enemies, and a destiny. But what makes it work well here is the unusual angle: Marcus has a nearly-useless arm and leg as a result of an injury when he was a baby. He can’t even walk. And it’s not like he’s got super special magical powers (at least not yet) that would make this any easier for him. His disability is highlighted against Kyja, who is the only magicless girl in a world where everyone can do some kind of magic. She’s gone through much the same cycle of ridicule and alienation, and each of them has cause to envy the other even as each of them can offer something the other desperately needs.
I like the little magical touches in Farworld, from the dawn chimes to the original creatures like Riph Raph. I liked how traveling between the worlds worked, and the curious link between the two that allows Kyja and Marcus to help each other. And Water Keep itself was a lot of fun. It managed to avoid a lot of the usual assumptions about where water elementals might reside, and the atmosphere was intriguing (Water or air? Yes. Hah). And the snake shapeshifters were excellent villains.
Although I don’t have problems with the pacing, it did seem odd that the elementals and Water Keep weren’t even mentioned until a good way into the book. So in that sense it might feel a little slow, as the cover description talks about some things that take a long time to emerge.
This is a decently strong start to the series, and I’m hoping the later books get better as more of the history and geography of Farworld and the intrigues of the Dark Circle get a chance to show up. Marcus and Kyja are an engaging set of heros and it will be fun to see just where this adventure takes them. I rate this book Recommended.