I’ve been meaning to post this all week, but somehow not getting around to it. Anyway: as Martin noted, the most popular fiction books in this year’s Strange Horizons best of the year round-up were, first, The City & The City by China Mieville, second, In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield, and third equal, Ark by Stephen Baxter and Cloud & Ashes by Greer Gilman. (And wouldn’t those four be a good start for a Hugo shortlist?) I’d been meaning to link to Hannah’s appreciative post about In Great Waters anyway, but it picked up this fascinating comment:
I happened to read this just this week because sovay told me to, and it staggered me. It’s set in a period where I do know the history very well, and one of the things that absolutely blew me away was the way it uses the real history to create suspense. After the marriage, I was absolutely terrified for everybody, simply because of the names of the characters, because she’s Anne and he’s Henry and the ramifications of that. Anne and Mary are the Boleyn girls, with Philip changed from brother to uncle, incestuous implications and all. I sat there going oh, God, do not be Anne of the thousand days, it would be so easy, with the most significant man Anne Boleyn was accused of adultery with (other than Philip) cast as Henry’s foster-brother… and I knew what kind of trouble Henry was going to have most violently on coming to the throne, and couldn’t guess how they were going to get out of it. Because of course Samuel is Saint Sir Thomas More, and that was a trainwreck coming.
I can’t recall seeing another novel that has done this particular thing, where it isn’t a one-to-one AU but the resonances of our history shape the tensions of the plot without being either obtrusive or implausible. The expectations that come from knowing what ought to happen to these people make the last half of the book almost unbearably cruel, but then also pull off what I experienced as a genuine eucatastrophe, also an incredibly rare bird.
This book gets my Hugo nomination this year, and I need to write a long review in hopes of drawing the attention of more people towards it, because I’ve seen almost no buzz, which is a damn shame.
The long review has, sadly, not appeared yet, but I’d love to hear more about this side of the book; history is very much not my thing, so my appreciation for In Great Waters — it’s getting my Hugo nomination, too — is independent of any of these resonances.
Also of note: Faren Miller’s Locus review.
While Whitfield’s strong sense of character gives life and complexity even to the schemers, arrogant power-mongers, and borderline maniacs who collectively make life for Henry, Anne and other relative innocents more dangerous than any ocean current swarming with sharks, her two young protagonists stand at the heart of the book. Still it’s not just their tale. She interweaves the story of their trials and maturation into a mixture of real and imagined political and cultural history (both English and in a larger European sphere) that manages to be thoroughly compelling, even without the drama of those later revolutions.
Go on, pick up a copy of In Great Waters. You know you want to.