The Waters Rising is good, but not Sherri Tepper’s best work. It tells the story of Xulai, the soul carrier for a foreign princess, trying to get back home. It is set mostly in a post-apocalyptic America that is substantially covered by rising waters. Aside from the immediate adventures, the story is about humanity trying to survive the coming flood.
As with all of Tepper’s work, the writing is smooth and evocative. This time, many of the word choices struck me as unusual – I don’t usually stop quite so often to wonder “Now, why did the author use this word here?” There were also a few typos, suggesting less than perfect editing.
More of an issue was the story itself. First, it wasn’t as fully realized as I might have hoped. There were too many gaps filled with handwaving or happy coincidence. This felt more like an advanced draft than a completed novel – as if the author had said “I’ll get to that,” but never did. Second, it seemed as if the story went on far past its natural conclusion. Tension built, to a point where … it just started to wind down. What seems like it should have been a few-page wrapping up went on for a couple of chapters. I felt curiously let down and at the same time unmoved. The book ended, and I thought “Oh. Okay. Good.” but not much more.
As with many of Tepper’s books, the philosophical themes are a bit heavy handed. What’s good is good, what’s bad is bad. Here, the Tingawans across the ocean are pretty much the embodiment of everything good. It doesn’t get in the way, but it does require some suspension of disbelief. Usually Tepper gets away with the messaging because the writing is so good. Here, the messages are evident, but the writing doesn’t carry the conviction it usually does.
Tepper fans – go ahead and buy this. You’ll like it, even if you’re not bowled over. Tepper newcomers – I suggest you start elsewhere: The True Game books for fantasy fans, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall or The Gate to Women’s Country if you’re looking for philosophy and politics done well, Raising the Stones if you just want well written SF.