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The Living Waters by Dan Fitzgerald

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OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Dan Fitzgerald is a fantasy writer living in Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, & two cats. When he is not writing, he might be gardening, doing yoga or cooking while listening to French music. His trilogy, the Maer Cycle, involves an encounter with a lost tribe of humanity ensconced in legend as monsters.

FORMAT/INFO: The Living Waters was published by Shadow Spark Publishing on October 15th, 2021. It is 300 pages split over thirty-eight chapters. It is told in third person from the POVs of Sylvan, Temi, Gilea, and Leo. It is available in hardcover and paperback formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Temi and Sylvan are two young mobiles embarking on a “roughabout” – a chance to travel through remote parts of the country, to get their hands dirty and see how the other half lives. Sylvan is a recently graduated Doctor of Life Sciences, excited to see new flora and fauna. Temi, meanwhile, is contemplating using the roughabout as a way to escape her future in an arranged marriage. But as they travel along the river with their chaperone Gilea and guide Leo, their plans are called into question at the appearance of strange, possibly sentient, swirls in the water. Our four companions are drawn into the mystery of why the swirls are appearing and what they want – and the answers may lie in a fabled region known as the Living Waters.

The Living Waters occupies a bit of a niche in the fantasy space. Its author has branded it as “sword-free fantasy,” and I’d go a step further and call it “wilderness adventure fantasy.” Imagine a story with the vibes of Call of the Wild or The African Queen, but set in a unique world, and you’ll be close to imagining the story of The Living Waters. This is a book where much of the conflict is man against nature, as our four leads journey down a river, getting closer and closer to the fabled marshlands that no human has reliably documented. It’s a nature expedition, as well as a story of personal growth, and remains that way until about the last 1/4 of the book. 

This is definitely a read for those who like more sedate pacing. I found myself thoroughly entranced for the first half, enjoying soaking in the atmosphere and the sights, and the feeling of throwing back to some classics from my childhood. That said, this was definitely a book where I had to be in the right mindset to enjoy it; its lack of outright conflict for much of the book made it occasionally difficult to get into if my brain was too abuzz. This is largely a group’s journey down a river, and all the different things they encounter along the way, from parasites to other travelers. What magic there is is low-level, mostly confined to empathic or telepathic abilities arrived at through meditation and study. You won’t find exploding fireballs here. 

Ironically, when the book became faster paced was where it lost me a bit. The final conflict, while hinted at throughout the story, is introduced and resolved late in the book and rather quickly at that. It was by far the thinnest part of the book, mostly because there was fairly limited motivation provided for the villains.

That being said, I have to applaud the creativity of some of the unique elements the author created. I absolutely loved the creatures our crew encounters late in the book, a society foreign in appearance, existence, and way of life. I won’t go into specifics, as it is a delight to discover these aspects along with the characters, but these beings were definitely a highlight of the story.

CONCLUSION: The Living Waters is a fresh entry in the fantasy space and manages to set itself apart in a genre overcrowded with tropes. You won’t find any Chosen One here, no Great Evil, no prophecy, no complicated magic system. You simply have a group of people on a river trip, dealing with what they encounter along the way. If you’re looking for a book to slow down with, The Living Waters is the way to go.

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