Robin McKinley
& Peter Dickinson,
Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits
(G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2002; Ace, 2003)

Wife and husband Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson take turns telling six stories, each touching on the element of water in Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits.

Dickinson starts off with "Mermaid Song," about a girl, raised under the thumb of her stern and angry grandfather, who discovers her spirit when she encounters a mermaid. In McKinley's tale "The Sea-King's Son," a young woman foils the Sea-King's curse and finds love with his son. "Sea Serpent" concerns a man named Iril who ferries people across an estuary, charged with a commission that becomes strange and dangerous.

Tamia, heroine of McKinley's "Water Horse," has difficulty believing that she is worthy of becoming one of the Guardians until an emergency forces her to take charge and control the Water Horse before it destroys her land. "The Kraken" is about a young mermaid named Ailsa who faces the fearful kraken at the bottom of the sea and learns a startling truth. The book closes with "A Pool in the Desert," a story set partly in McKinley's created country of Damar.

The concept is enchanting and, supposedly, Dickinson and McKinley have future volumes planned featuring the other three classical elements. Both are extremely talented writers, but their styles are very different. Dickinson's stories are usually darker, spare to the point of bleakness; McKinley's are more light-hearted although still complex and rich. The differences may not deter most readers but those with a preference for one or the other may find that the format poses a challenge.

Still, each story is a gem in its own right, carefully polished and precise. The imagery, whether spare or lush, is evocative, and the characters are well defined and interesting; they are people about whom the reader cares. This is an anthology for readers who are not afraid to take a chance and meet a challenge.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 20 December 2003

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