This review is based on an eARC (Advance Reading Copy) provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The Spear Cuts Through Water will be released on August 30, 2022.
I read Simon Jimenez’s debut novel, The Vanished Birds, last year, and while I didn’t necessarily think it all came together, the prose and the secondary characters were good enough to spur me to pick up his next project. That next project was this year’s fantasy epic, The Spear Cuts Through Water.
The Spear Cuts Through Water could be described simply as a fantasy quest story, though it’s told in such a way that there’s nothing simple about it. The lead characters are traveling together trying to reach the Divine City on the East coast of the land before a major celebration planned five days hence. Both have deliveries to make that could upset the dynastic succession and change the course of their land.
But it’s more than that. The Spear Cuts Through Water leans hard into the mythopoetic style, being communicated as a stage play performed for the reader in a second-person frame story partially taking place hundreds of years later, in an industrial society, and partially taking place outside of time entirely. And every minor character has their part to play, as demonstrated by frequent interruptions of perspective, where someone met in passing—often not even a named character—delivers one or two sentences demonstrating how they viewed the events. The pair of warriors carrying out the quest are absolutely the focal points, but we hear from everyone, and cuts through the fourth wall to the frame story are not unusual.
It makes for a tale notable for the storytelling as much as it is for the story. The prose is excellent, and the framing of the tale puts the reader into the mind of an audience hearing and seeing the performance of an epic, not of a reader of fantasy novels. If you enjoy different storytelling voices, the style itself is worth the price of admission.
About the story, on the other hand, my feelings are more mixed. It’s clear from the beginning that there’s a potential revolution in the works, but we see little enough about the revolutionaries to have a sense of whether their cause is any nobler than that of the tyrannical Emperor. And so the first half of the story is left to be carried mostly by an extended chase, with the heroes doggedly pursued by agents of the Emperor whose supernatural endowments make them almost impossible to either defeat or escape. For readers whose interests fall in the intersection of literary stylings and epic chase scenes, The Spear Cuts Through Water may be a new favorite. For others, the success of the first half of the story will depend on the interpersonal relationships between one of the two leads, the fallen goddess he escorts, and the pair of villains, all of whom have long and complicated histories with each other. Said relationships tend toward the archetypical and are characterized by extreme actions and emotions, which fits nicely with the mythopoetic style, but to me didn’t capture quite enough nuance to sustain the length.
The back half of the story, on the other hand, opens up more context, with details about the revolution, a third powerful enemy, and a lot more time devoted to the relationship between the two leads. I wouldn’t say that the main plot ever develops an abundance of complexity, but fans of high-stakes adventure fantasy will have enough to satisfy, and the storytelling technique continues to provide depth and nuance, even where the plot is more straightforward.
Ultimately, I’m not sure The Spear Cuts Through Water offers enough from a plot or character perspective to ascend my favorites list, but there’s quality in both aspects—even if it may run a bit long—especially if you don’t mind frontloaded action and backloaded context. But the true star here is the storytelling, with excellent prose and a mythopoetic style that’s worth the price of admission for readers looking for something beyond the typical Western fantasy epic.
Recommended if you like: quality prose, interesting storytelling techniques, mythic voice.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Revolutions and Rebellions, Mental Health, Family Matters, and Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey, and is also a 2022 Release by a BIPOC Author featuring a Cool Weapon and Shapeshifters.
Overall rating: 15 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.