I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Tree of Water by Elizabeth Haydon
Series: The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme #4
Published: 2014 by Tor
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: the publisher
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The Tree of Water by Elizabeth Haydon is the fourth book in the young adult series “The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme.” Even though the book is later in the series, it works as a standalone because Haydon frames this book as one of many lost journals that tell tales of Ven’s adventures. She presents the story as if she’s the compiler of the journal fragments, giving herself the role of a historian looking back on Ven’s life. The story is connected to previous books, but there’s enough exposition that readers won’t feel lost if they jump right in.
Ven Polypheme is a Nain, a humanoid creature that reminds me a bit of a Hobbit. Most Nain are hardworking and not particularly adventurous, but Ven is different. He’s a curious soul, and because of his previous adventures, he’s been given a mission from the king to find the magic that’s hidden in plain sight. He travels the world because the king can’t and brings back stories so the king can make better decisions and be more informed about his kingdom.
In a previous book (presumably, as I haven’t read any of the earlier installments of the series), Ven befriended a mermaid named Amariel. He promised her that since she grew legs to visit his world for a while that he’d go visit hers. He and his friend Char are also charged with a mission from an enigmatic sorceress to find the legendary Tree of Water and to solve the mystery of a runed dragon scale. Of course, the sea is a dangerous place, and it takes everything the adventurers have just to stay alive.
One of the things that I loved about this book was Haydon’s descriptions of the sea itself. The story is written for young adults (although a smart middle grader could love the series as well; there’s nothing in it that’s particularly adult or controversial), and it uses the story of Ven’s travels to provide an ecological background of undersea life and how every creature is food for something else. This has practical implications for the story, ie. needing to run away from sharks or octopi or giant jellyfish, but is also a really fun way to learn about the food chain. There are scenes where undersea creatures get eaten by bigger creatures. Everything is part of the greater cycle of life, and Amariel frequently makes fun of Ven and Char’s squeamishness about it. For her, it’s just a fact of life.
The characters themselves seem a bit flat, but not in such a way that they aren’t still engaging. Char is a loveable coward. Ven is too brave for his own good, and it frequently gets him into trouble. Amariel is a sensible balance between the two, as her curious nature is tempered by her survival instinct. All of them are set on doing the right thing, although as they travel they realize that sometimes what is good for one person might not be good for someone else. And of course, the heroes win in the end. It’s a bit more simplistic than most of the fantasy that I’ve been reading as of late, but the worldbuilding more than makes up for it.
Overall, The Tree of Water was an excellent read, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. I found myself enchanted by Haydon’s descriptions of aquatic life and the exquisite undersea worlds that she creates. If it seems like the sort of book you might be interested in, then use the Rafflecopter below to enter the giveaway, courtesy of the blog tour (US/Canada only, please!).