Review: The Water and the Wild by K. E. Ormsbee


Hardcover, 448 pages
Expected publication: April 14th 2015 by Chronicle Books
Source: ARC from Raincoast Books

The Water and the Wild is about a girl.

The girl had a name. The teachers who read roll at Kemble School called off Charlotte G. Fiske, though she preferred to be called Lottie and, out of respect for her wishes, that is what the author will call her, too. Unlike Mrs. Yates, who had prematurely wrinkled and stooped like wilted spinach, Lottie looked much younger than her twelve years. She had grown up to have a tangled mess of lemony hair, a face smattered with freckles, and gray eyes that frightened the locals.

Lottie has a friend, in fact, he is the only friend she has. His name is Eliot and he is a wonderfully fun person to spend time and plan for the future with. Apart from one thing: Eliot is sick with a disease that no doctor can diagnose but that, all agree, is incurable. When Eliot’s father tells Lottie that Eliot has only weeks left, Lottie panics.

She has been receiving birthday gifts every year from someone with bad handwriting but a good heart (anyone who gives good gifts has to have a good heart) and she had asked that person to cure Eliot. However, this request must have been too difficult for whoever is sending Lottie gifts because he or she did not send Eliot a cure.

Then Lottie is attacked by a “homicidal tree,” and rescued by someone who leaves a handprint on her arm. When she gets home, there is a rude girl who casts slurs on her fashion choice but leads her down the apple tree that grows outside Lottie’s window and into its roots. Lottie finds herself on an amazing adventure though her main objective is to find a cure for Eliot, her only friend.

This book is brilliant. I don’t say that easily so you know I mean it.

There are many things to love about The Water and the Wild but as the theme for this month is friendship, let’s focus on that.

Lottie does not quite understand what Eliot’s father means when he says that Eliot has only weeks left but she doesn’t like how the words make her feel. Eliot, for his part, presents such a heartbreakingly courageous face to his impending end that I was already blinking back tears while chanting “No, no, no, no.” However, this friendship aside, it is Lottie’s gradual acceptance of and fondness for the three fae beings she meets in the fae world that won me over.

There is a boy sprite, Oliver, whose eyes change colour according to his changing moods. He bruises people with a simple touch and has to live being careful not to come in contact with any other living being for fear of causing them harm. He quotes poetry as a way to express himself.

His sister, Adelaide, also known as (much to her displeasure) Ada, is prickly, suspicious and very conscious of her place and position in society. She is very hostile to Lottie because of the upheavals Lottie’s very presence causes in her life.

Then there is Fife Dulcet, a Puck-like creature, half-wisp and half-sprite who has a lot of anger in him because of his mixed heritage. His keen or magical ability is knowing exactly the right thing to say in any situation. As such he is often the one to defuse tense situations or talk them out of hairy places.

Lottie is as much an outsider in the fae world as she is in the human world. She has no keen or magical abilities and she doesn’t even know her own history–something that other people seem to be well acquainted with. However, Lottie is willing to endure everything–all the slurs, the difficulties, the danger–if it means that she can get Eliot a cure for his disease.

I loved the world Ormsbee created for the story. Lottie and her new friends go on a journey through wild woods in order to petition the Southerly king for the return of Oliver and Ada’s father, the head healer who has been wrongly accused of treason. They journey through the plague-ridden areas of the wisp territory in order to meet Fife’s mother, the queen or as she is known, the Seamstress of the wisps. Lottie survives an attack by a Barghest and almost has her soul cleaved from her body.

As I said, a lot of adventures are had. Friendships are forged and friendships are tested.

The brilliant thing about The Water and the Wild are the allusions it makes to different children’s novels. For example, Lottie’s travels through the apple tree’s roots are reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the heroic journey Lottie and her friends go on reminded me of Bilbo Baggins and his journey with the dwarfs. Every fae creature in the book has a genda, that is a bird, which called to mind Phillip Pullman’s daimons. However, as much as The Water and the Wild alludes to other novels, its charm is very much its own. Lottie is a wonderful character; she is brave, silly, eccentric, fiercely loyal and vulnerable. She makes mistakes but is not afraid to apologise.

The urgency granted to the narrative by Eliot’s sickness is matched by the quick pace of the novel. While there is introspection aplenty (and angst too, thank you Fife), it does not overwhelm the narrative as action is given primary importance.

The despotic king and the intriguing twist surprised me in a good way. The ending is brilliant: subtle yet reassuring. And the best news? There is a sequel planned. The novel is complete on its own and has no hated cliffhanger but there is a potential for more and I love that the potential is going to be explored.

Wow, this review, if you can call it that, is long. Just one more thing.

The Water and the Wild contains narrative elements that render it enjoyable to readers of all ages. While the young reader will enjoy the story at face value, the older reader will be able to understand and appreciate the subtext involving social hierarchy and the debate for free access to antidotes and vaccines of fatal diseases. The novel dresses up contemporary topics in fantastic garb. For example, consider the debates around  medicare in the US. In the novel, the sprites refuse to share the antidote or cure for the plague with the wisps who are slowly dying out…which is yet another very pertinent subject: genocide of a people and culture. If you let a people die out even when you have the ability to save them, aren’t you, too, as responsible for their deaths as what directly kills them? The  novel asks this question as well as several others.

The Water and the Wild has a tremendous lot to offer any child or adult. I recommend it strongly.

9 responses to “Review: The Water and the Wild by K. E. Ormsbee

  1. Everything everything everything you’ve described is making me breathlessly excited to read this book. The title even comes from one of my very favorite Yeats poems! Faery worlds, difficult bravery, puck-like creatures… everything I could ask for in a children’s book! And then there are even nods to OTHER children’s books?? Sign. Me. Up. I just ordered a copy of this from my local bookstore halfway through reading your review. Cannot bloody wait.

  2. Pingback: Author Interview: K. E. Ormsbee | The Book Wars·

  3. Pingback: The Best of 2015: Middle Grade Fiction | The Book Wars·

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