Simon Jimenez, The Spear Cuts Through Water, Random House, 2022.
Let's be honest: I enjoyed The Spear Cuts Through Water less than I enjoyed Jimenez previous novel, The Vanished Birds. Nonetheless, it's a remarkable and ambitious fantasy novel, erring on the literary side, in which I found much to admire.
You have nine brothers, a father, a great-grand-father and your grand-mother. When you were a child, she often told you the myths of the Old Country and said that one day, in your dreams, you might be called to the Inverted Theatre. And one day, you are.
There you witness dancers telling you the story of Keema and Jun. They're both escaping with the Empress, who used to be the Moon, before the First Emperor beguiled her and emprisoned her to have gifted children with her. As Keema, Jun, and the Empress ride through the country, their destinies unfold. And so is yours.
The Spear Cuts Through Water is amazingly well written. The prose is ornate without being flowery, the structure is rare (in UK/US traditional publishing) and it all creates a tapestry of intricate details.
I particularly appreciated the way Jimenez used the different points of view to offer us glimpses into the thoughts of everyday people. The novel might focus on emperors and wealthy families, but with this trick, Jimenez gives us a real world in which people can be the playthings of the powerful ones, with perspectives that are too often ignored in that kind of narratives.
The way Jimenez weaves his dual timeline is also remarkably well done, although it really comes into its own once you're past three fifth of the novel. There, you realise it's much more than a gimmick, but it supports and carries some of the themes of the novel.
My regret is that this remarkable prose kept me at arm's length from the characters for too long. I almost DNFed because I couldn't care about them.
But, again, when I reached three fifth of the novel, I suddenly got more involved with the main characters. The plot focused much more on their emotions, and so could I. Jun and Keema, the two main characters, both come with their issues, insecurities, and youth, and try to find their own way when duty and death beckon.
The world building is a thing of beauty, with a mythical past, a murky present we see in glimpses, and a splendid inventiveness.
"It is a love story," says one the characters at some point. And yes, it is. Although it's not at all the theme that'll remain for me. I was much more interested in how The Spear Cuts Through Water talked about immigration and the links the younger generations keep, or not, with the culture their parents or grand-parents come from.
I also particularly enjoyed the vivid painting of power and cruelty there's in the novel, and the themes of loneliness and the need to be loved.
The Spear Cuts Through Water is a remarkable novel, but not one you should pick when you want a straightforward read. Jimenez remains, to me, one of the most exciting SFF writers who emerged those past two years and I can't wait to see where he'll take us next.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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