In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield

In Great Waters is set in a world reminiscent of the time of the Tudors, ruled by royals who are half-human, half-deepsmen (mermen). One of their ancestors saved Venice from attack by communing with the deepsmen – who easily destroyed the armies invading by sea – and showed the tactical advantage of such interbreeding. As it is strictly forbidden for all but royals to interbreed, over time the bloodline inevitably weakens. Interbreeding creates mad or disabled royals and many kingdoms suffer, particularly England where the novel is set.

Though the King’s eldest son married a healthy foreign royal and produced two daughters, his other son is considered an idiot. When his eldest son dies without creating any male heirs and the King himself grows weak, the country fears its crown will be seized by foreign hands. Anne, the youngest princess, whose face glows with the phosphorescence of the very deep, feigns stupidity as a means for survival, but when there are sailors’ bastards, foreigners and idiots threatening the English throne, she’s forced to come out of hiding.

Whistle is one of the bastards. A product of illegal interbreeding – his mother slept with a sailor – he sees himself as pure deepsman, the intensity of daily survival always at the forefront of his mind. But his split fin makes him weaker than the others and when he can no longer keep up with the tribe, and he gets too big for his mother to drag along at speed, she forces him onto the shore and abandons him there. A nobleman takes him in, calls him Henry, tries to teach him to walk with sticks – his flexible fins aren’t easy to walk on – and cowers under the knowledge of Henry’s potential for the thrown.

This is bloody and naked fantasy of the kind that would make a fantastic film or television series not unlike The Game of Thrones. The novel fully understands the highs and lows of human nature. A gripping read, In Great Waters explores the wild heart of our human history. I thoroughly recommend it.

Next week I’m reading The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan followed by Stoner by John Williams and The Lost Horizon by James Hilton.