Reviews: The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore
Title: The Water Castle
Author: Megan Frazer Blakemore Illustrations: Jim Kay
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers (An imprint of Bloomsbury)
Pub Date: January 2013 ISBN: 978-0-8027-2839-5
Some of the best books books out there are those that defy simple genre definitions and expectations. The Water Castle is just such a creature. From the cover and title, a reader might think this is an obvious fantasy, especially with the inclusion of the word “castle”. But what you expect is not necessarily what you get . . . and that can be a very good thing. Megan Frazer Blakemore’s first book for middle grade readers is part mystery, part adventure, part historical and a curious mixture of science fiction and fantasy that makes hard to label, but delightful to read.
When his father suffers a stroke, Ephraim Appledore-Smith’s whole life is suddenly and painfully altered. His mother decides to relocate the whole family to the ancestral estate in Crystal Springs, Maine in a effort to help his father recover. The transition from his familiar urban home to an ancient mansion (aka the Water Castle) isn’t an easy one but rumors of his ancestor’s search for the fountain of youth give Ephraim a new purpose and hope. In order to help his father, he’s willing to do a great deal, even hunt down a legend. Mallory Greene has lived in Crystal Springs all her life, brought up to believe in the magic and stories surrounding the Water Castle. Disillusioned by life, Mallory no longer believes in magic, but she wants to uncover the truth of her parents’ stories once and for all. Will Wylie has spent his life living in the shadow of a long standing family grudge and hopes to leave it behind him. He’d like nothing better than to prove that there’s nothing special about the Water Castle or the fabled spring. These three forge a friendship as they attempt to unravel the mysteries and secrets that surround the Water Castle. What they find will change their lives forever.
What a marvelous and entertaining read! Ms. Blakemore manages to braid scenes of past and present into one fascinating story that never feels rushed or taken for granted. She picks up her readers in a story of friendship, mystery and powerful needs and sets them down again having learned something–or several somethings. I learned more about Robert Peary and Frederick Cook and their search for the North Pole than I’d ever known (and it’s prompted me to delve further into the history of these two men, and the others involved in these famous Arctic treks). Real historical figures and events help to set this story in the real world, maintaining a sense of the possible and giving readers a window from which to view the world as a place of wondrous possibilities around every corner.
While I’m clearly a professed fan of genre fiction, there is much to be said for a book that slips effortlessly into so many genres. At its heart, this is the story of friendship, identity and the human spirit, Ephraim, Mallory and Wylie all have their own personal demons to deal with. Readers will find these protagonists people they can identify with, despite some of the more fantastic elements of the story. Ephraim’s struggle to deal with his own emotions, Mallory’s hurt and sense of betrayal, Will’s frustration with his father. Powerful, but very familiar stuff for many middle grade readers.
Now, I’ve seen a bundle of reviews out there of the book, and some are calling it fantasy, while others say science fiction. Still others label it as a mix between the two. There’s no right answer, really. But I am going to give my opinion, and that is that this lovely book is science fiction. It’s not the big, splashy kind of science fiction–but it is the kind I’m hoping to see more of on the book shelves for children. This book mentions scientists, explorers and inventors. Our characters are interested in discovery, and scientific breakthroughs. No matter how outlandish the actual goal, the men and women are seeking the answers through scientific means. The story gives science a breathless and exciting quality that we need to see. Part of the heart and soul of science fiction is not the rocket ships and outer space, but the inquiring mind and the belief in discovery. If we’re looking to grow the scientists, explorers, inventors and innovators of the next generation, this is the kind of story that can help to spark the interest.
If I have any complaint, it’s that the quiet little cover of this book will allow it to be overlooked by prospective readers. While it may not be a terrible cover, it’s not really evocative of the kind of story that readers will find within. Overall, I think this may appeal to 9-12 year-old readers alike who enjoy a well told story and adventure. It’s also the perfect book to spark an interest in SF for the reader who may be reluctant to try out the genre.
Happy Reading! ^_^