The Water and the Wild, by K. E. Ormsbee, illustrated by Elsa Mora, (Chronicle Books), 448 Pages, release date 14 April, 2015
The Water and the Wild is described as being for ages 8 to 12—but that greatly underestimates its charms. This novel travels between present day mediocrity and timeless fantasy laced with both menace and magic. Our present-day heroine, Lottie Fiske, is an orphan being raised by a guardian who cares little (really, not at all) for her. Lottie’s a poor fit in the local school because, “She had the audacity to not be very pretty or rich or even stupid, and at least one of the qualities was essential for a girl.” She’s bullied by the popular crowd and fantasizes with her best friend Eliot about winning scholarships and leaving their small town forever. Unfortunately, Eliot’s always-poor health is worsening, and he may not live long enough to achieve their dream.
The fantasy world is Albion—a place populated by sprites, each of whom has a keen and a genga. A keen is a special talent related to one of the senses that allows a sprite to perceive the world with great intensity. A sprite with a taste keen can taste the words used by those around him to determine the motives behind those words. A sprite with a hearing keen is able to listen at great distances: through walls, in other buildings, even, with the right training, at distances of hundreds of miles. A genga is a bird companion each sprite is born with, and each genga is able to provide a particular kind of aid to its owner.
Unfortunately, Albion is beset by political turmoil that constantly threatens violence. The Southern King and the Northern Rebels each hope to overcome the other. Caught between these two forces are the Wisps, who are dying of a plague. The Southerly Court has a cure for the plague and innoculates its own citizens against it, but “the ingredients are rare. [Southerlies] don’t have enough to hand out to everyone.” As one bored Southerly explains, “[Wisps will] go extinct. Nearly a quarter are dead as it is. By the time [we Southerlies] are grown, there won’t be any more wisps left on the Isle.”
Lottie, searching for a cure for Eliot, finds herself in Albion where she’s hunted by parties on all sides who believe she’s the last of the Fiskes, the family that once ruled Albion. Albion isn’t necessarily any kinder than Lottie’s home town, but with the help of two sprites and a wisp halfling, who may or may not truly be her friends, Lottie sets out to find a cure for Eliot.
The pacing of this novel is simultaneously gentle and urgent. Lottie gradually comes to learn more about herself and about Albion, but at the same time, she needs to accomplish her goal in a just a few days if there’s to be any hope for Eliot. One feels compelled to continue reading, but is able to savor the story at the same time.
Even if you’re nowhere near ages 8 to 12, The Water and the Wild will provide you with an experience that both reminds you of your own world and that transports you to another world entirely.