Ellen Jensen Abbott's story is a satisfying, well-crafted fantasy yarn. You'll recognize many mythic creatures throughout the adventure: dwarves, fauns, centuars, hags, trolls and fairies. At its simplest, this is a quest tale, and so if you're at all familiar with the fantasy genre, you will settle quickly into this story and world that Ellen Jensen Abbott creates. I felt straight away that there was something old-fashioned about the tone and the characters - and I'm talking old-fashioned in a good way. About a chapter in, I was thinking, "Oh good, this is exactly what I was hoping for." Perhaps it's the way that Ellen has so convincingly drawn for the reader the societies she has imagined. Vranille is a miserable place, and you know it from the start. Watersmeet is full of magic and wonder. There is always enough attention to setting and environment to allow you to be right there with Abisina as she moves from one new experience to the next. In addition, Ellen makes clear the social and cultural differences among the various creatures and communities, from their different rituals to their unique types of music and stories and legends. This differentiation helped to make the whole reading experience that much richer, and made Watersmeet feel all the more exotic and real.
It's certainly a coming-of-age story, as Abisina faces challenges on the way to discovering her family and her future path. She's a tough cookie, and although hers is a world full of magic and violence and strange creatures, I don't think that will prevent readers from connecting to the way she struggles to discover who she is, and what she is meant to do. I can see Watersmeet working beautifully in theclassroom, because it offers complex exploration of many discussion-worthy themes: unity and conflict, prejudice and power, evil and forgiveness and family. Just in case you can't figure out exactly how to take it into the classroom, have no fear! Ellen Jensen Abbott provides some of the best looking Teachers' Guides I've ever seen. Honest. If you don't find her suggestions inspiring, you're in the wrong job. You don't have to do a thing (other than buy the books and hand them to your students). Can you tell Ellen is an English teacher? Lucky kids.
Library Media Connection
The first part of this fantasy novel relates Abisina's life as an outcast in her village. Saved from death by her mother's healing abilities and her own green eyes, Abisina is the opposite of the village's view of purity and beauty. When the village is called to war, Abisina only has her mother's last directions to lead her. She must go to Watersmeet and find her father. The next part of the novel chronicles her journey with a dwarf named Haret where many of her views of the non-human world are challenged. The final part covers Abisina meeting her father and discovering surprising secrets about him. As a debut fantasy novel, the story explores some familiar ground with new touches. The author tends to tell the reader rather than showing in some circumstances, but the readers will forgive this point, because the novel flows so well. Abisina is a strong female character, which is commonplace in teen fantasy, but her prejudices give her a realistic flaw making the novel a good discussion starter on prejudices in real life. Fantasy readers will enjoy this new author's work. Recommended.
School Library Journal
From birth Abisina has been an outcast because she doesn't have light skin, blond hair, and blue eyes. Only her mother's status as Vranille's only healer has saved the 14-year-old from being abandoned outside the village walls, prey to centaurs, dwarves, and worse. The arrival of the long-awaited Charach, the Deliverer, is a disaster. He incites the community to slaughter the outcasts, Abisina's mother is killed, and the teen barely escapes. Armed with her mother's necklace and not much else, the girl heads off to find Watersmeet, and, hopefully, her father. She encounters a plethora of otherworldly creatures, becomes the reluctant traveling companion of a dwarf, loses a toe to evil centaurs, and finally makes it to Watersmeet, where creatures of all kinds live in harmony. She meets her father, who is much more than she could have ever imagined, and reluctantly participates in the battle to save the world from Charach. While there isn't anything particularly new here, this book has a positive message of tolerance and acceptance, and the ending, while abrupt, is ultimately satisfying and leaves the door open for a sequel.
Children's Literature - Allison Fetters
When Abisina is forced to leave Vranville, the home where she has always been known as an outcast, she finds herself on an adventure in search of her father that challenges every ounce of her physical, mental, and emotional strength. In the company of Haret, a dwarf who becomes her travel companion, she begins to question some of the preconceived notions she had developed from early childhood and begins to move away from the narrow-minded ways of the Vranians. When Abisina and Haret reach their goal, Watersmeet, they are met with open arms by a place and group of inhabitants that accept all who wish to live in harmony with one another. Though it seems that Abisina's worries will be over when she finds her father, she is faced with one of the biggest decisions ever made as she fights to overcome the biggest obstacle in her mind and level of acceptance. A novel in which one is met with good and evil and prejudice of all types, Watersmeet is an exciting page-turner that is difficult to put down. Reviewer: Allison Fetters
VOYA - Lynne Farrell Stover
Abisina, a green-eyed outcast, has been shunned for all of her fourteen years and is only alive because her mother is the village healer. When a charismatic new leader incites the violent slaughter of all misfits, Abisina escapes and her quest to find her unknown father begins. Injured and weak, she is nursed back to health by the loving dwarf, Hoysta. It is while recuperating in the dwarf's underground home that Abisina learns she has her own prejudices to overcome. Armed with a magical necklace and a few cryptic statements from her dying mother, Abisina and Hoysta's grandson set out in search of the legendary Watersmeet. Here they find Abisina's heroic father who is the leader of a blissful community where fauns, fairies, centaurs, and humans live in harmony. This idealistic way of life is soon threatened by an invading army of trolls, hags, and minotaurs, led by the ruthless being responsible for the death of Abisina's mother. An easy-to-read fantasy with a female protagonist, this book presents themes of intolerance and discrimination that can find counterparts in current cultural clashes. The story's action, adventure, and attention to detail usually override the author's heavy-handed message of acceptance over bigotry. Even though the contrived collusion, which came about exceptionally quickly, resolved all problems, it would be interesting to revisit Abisina's world to see how it is faring. This would be an excellent companion book for Avi's Crispin: The Cross of Lead (Hyperion, 2002/VOYA June 2002). Reviewer: Lynne Farrell Stover
Message trumps storytelling in this earnest fantasy quest. Abisinia's dark coloring has incited 14 years of persecution from her fanatically xenophobic people. When a new leader inflames the Vranians to slaughter their Outcasts, Abisinia barely escapes to seek the father she never knew. Her search leads her to ally reluctantly with a dwarf, escape murderous centaurs and discover nascent supernatural powers. She will encounter her greatest challenge, however, at the legendary town of Watersmeet: overcoming her own prejudice and anger. Tolerance is a noble theme, evoked here through scenes of grim horror and homely charm, but worthy didacticism cannot substitute for coherent narrative, credible world-building or nuanced characterization. Assorted magical beings and myths are tossed together in a fantastic mishmash, without any apparent system. The Vranians are so appalling in their vicious religious fervor, the folk of Watersmeet so unfailingly gracious and wise, it's hard to imagine any worthwhile destiny bridging both cultures. Abisinia hardly seems up to the responsibility; self-centered, judgmental and clingy, her prophesied role seems based more on genetics than any inherent strength of character. Well-meaning but deeply flawed. (Fantasy. YA)
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The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
As a dark-skinned girl born to a blond Vranian mother, with no father in sight, Abisina has been an outcast her whole life. When a religious leader visits her village and instigates a pogrom against outcasts, dwarves, elves, and centaurs, Abisina's mother is killed, and Abisina runs for her life, keeping only her mother's necklace and vague directions to her father's home, Watermseet. Along the way, she is joined by a dwarf named Haret, who has his own reasons for wanting to go to Watersmeet. Though harrowing encounters with centaurs who wear human toes as trophies heighten the drama, it is Abisina's satisfying emotional quest to understand the dual nature of her own identity that drives this narrative. Her joy over meeting her father is tempered by her loathing for the centaurs who are his friends as well as deep ambivalence about her father's ability to shape-shift from man to centaur at will. As Abisina and Haret join the folk of Watersmeet in a war to reclaim the land from the religious ruler who began the pogrom in her village, Abisina begins to accept and understand her dual nature as a child of both Vranian and Watersmeet descent. The relationship between Abisina and Haret is warm and engaging, and the dialogue between them cleverly captures the slow development of their camaraderie, as they move from competitive banter to steadfast alliance. Fans of Ursula Le Guin's character-driven fantasies will enjoy this story of Abisina's quest to unify both her divided country and her divided self; an epilogue hints toward a sequel.