Waterwight by Laurel McHargue is a dystopian fantasy adventure about an orphan named Celeste who must go on a quest to stop a mysterious ooze that is infecting what’s left of her world. While this might be considered a post-apocalyptic story, the “Event” that caused the world to be in the state that we find it is left shrouded in mystery, as are a lot of other elements in the book. As the first book in a series, it is forgivable to leave some puzzles to be solved down the road, but some readers might find the lack of direct information limiting in some ways. The book reads like a hallucination, and readers who are interested in the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of things might find some frustration. The imaginative experience we are presented with compensates for the lack of answers with likable characters and inventive conflicts.
The writing itself is fluid and accessible, and it’s clear that McHargue is a poet as well as a teacher. Many lines of the story caught my attention, and the author has a way of drawing beauty out of even the most grotesque imagery. McHargue has a gift for language (more than one are featured in this work) and writing engaging dialogue, and I found myself empathizing with Celeste easily. The secondary characters, too, are enjoyable – Sharon and Orville are standouts – although not as fleshed out as I would have liked. Without giving too much away, developments later in the story suddenly add to and elaborate on many facets of who Celeste and the secondary characters are. While to some it could be likened to a superhero or arthurian origin-story, to others it could seem like a prologue without enough detail to fully set up an entire universe or a broader quest-line. With that said, there is enough intriguing stuff going on in this work to keep the reader invested until the end. The finale is satisfactory for the first entry in a series, but again leaves behind more questions than answers.
If you’re a reader who loves a little mystery in your fantasy and are looking for a book with adventure, magic, likable characters and an interesting world, Waterwight is a solid beginning to a series that promises more to come from Celeste and her friends. I give Waterwight 4 stars, but it should be noted that Awesome Indies recommends this book at 4 stars for young adult readers.