WRITTEN IN WATER
by ELIZABETH SCHECHTER
Aven’s world is frustratingly simple. He lives far out at sea for reasons that his parents will never discuss with him, telling him only that life on land isn’t safe. Then the discovery of a storm-damaged ship with a single survivor reveals the truth.
He is the Waterborn, one of the five chosen by the Mother Goddess to save the world. And the world is far more complicated than he ever dreamed, and far more terrifying.
Forced to leave behind the only life he’s ever known, Aven must learn quickly how to survive on land, and how to protect his newfound loves from the unknown menace hunting them. Can Aven fulfill his destiny and save the world? Or will this quest cost him everything?
SPFBO9 – Our Reviews
Written in Water is a fast-paced read, with an elemental magic system and great character relationships at the core. Aven is from the water tribe and grew up on a canoe in the deep waters. Part of being part of the water tribe is the ability to transform with a tail while in the water, like a mermaid. His father is from the earth tribe and Aven has inherited the healing ability as well from him. Each of the other tribes has unique characteristics and those of mixed heritage may inherit one or the other or both of the characteristics depending on the individual.
The entire premise of the world is built around the continent being ruled by the Firstborn (and there is a subsequent Heir identified as well). When we start, the world has been thrown out of balance because the ruler is not Firstborn, there are famines, wild weather patterns and civil unrest among other things. Then an Heir is found and she must collect her Companions, one from each of the tribes in order to then progress to ruling and becoming the Firstborn.
The plot unfolds rapidly and it’s clear the main characters are going on a journey to find out not only how they’ll one day rule but themselves along the way. There are twists and turns and plot threads left to be resolved after the first book. Yet, Written in Water also feels complete, you don’t get all the answers but it doesn’t feel unfinished.
Written in Water is queer-normative and at the center the Heir and her Companions are in a poly relationship. There is also great disability representation in the sequels.
This book was so compulsively readable that I finished it in under 24 hours and subsequently finished the entire six book series. Comparison-wise, Avatar the Last Airbender comes to mind but the magic system in Schechter’s world isn’t about direct element manipulation, instead each element has their own unique characteristics. There is the element of balance to the world when the Heir is ruling that is similar to the Avatar’s role.
While this book was very enjoyable, it was fairly simplistic in plot beats and prose which meant it wasn’t something I was really able to get lost in. The worldbuildling didn’t grip and immerse me in that way that some of my other SPFBO reads have. It was definitely more of a character-focused book, a lot of time spent on the dynamics between each character.
Written in Water is unfortunately a cut from this year’s SPFBO competition. However, if you’re in the mood for a fast-paced plot, an elemental magic system, and great representation (LGBTQ, Disability) definitely check this out. But beware, you may just find yourself compelled into a six book series.