Title: Walking on Water
Author: Matthew J. Metzger
Publisher: NineStar Press
Length: 276 Pages
Category: Fantasy, Fairy Tale
At a Glance: If you love a classic fairy tale gorgeously re-imagined, Walking on Water is it.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: When a cloud falls to earth, Calla sets out to find what lies beyond the sky. Father says there’s nothing, but Calla knows better. Something killed that cloud; someone brought it down.
Raised on legends of fabled skymen, Calla never expected them to be real, much less save one from drowning—and lose her heart to him. Who are the men who walk on water? And how can such strange creatures be so beautiful?
Infatuated and intrigued, Calla rises out of her world in pursuit of a skyman who doesn’t even speak her language. Above the waves lies more than princes and politics. Above the sky awaits the discovery of who Calla was always meant to be. But what if it also means never going home again?
Review: If there were ever a fairy tale that deserves to be fractured, it’s Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid; though I do have to give it—and every other Andersen tale, for that matter—credit for forcing me to broaden my definition of a happy ending. He was the master of the tragic happy, for lack of a better description, and The Little Mermaid is nothing if not a heartstring tugging tear-jerker.
Coupling my love of fairy tales with my love of seeing them re-imagined, and then adding to that an author whose work has been on my radar for a while now, there was no way I was about to take a pass on Matthew J. Metzger’s Walking on Water, and it was so, so worth it. Borrowing from the original tale’s tropes and then adding a lush new world and multi-faceted characters, Metzger delivers a story that is both heart-rending and hopeful. Not only is it a beautiful romantic tale, but it is also the story of a man discovering his true self, and is the story of a king’s—and, perhaps more importantly, a brother’s—day of reckoning and ultimate redemption.
Prince Janez is a cog in his family’s machine, beholden to king and kingdom at the expense of not only his own happiness but also in the loss of his brother. Oh, King Alarik is alive and well, don’t get me wrong, but this complicates things all the more because he is a king facing a war and is a ruler who has an obligation to his people, which means he will make sacrifices for the greater good. Sadly, that sacrifice comes at Janez’s expense, and this aspect of the storyline holds true to one of the themes in Andersen’s original tale—sacrificing one’s own happiness for the love of another, and, in Janez’s case, giving up his hope for love in order to fulfill his role as the spare heir to the throne.
Janez is being forced into a marriage of convenience in order to secure an alliance with a kingdom that will serve to reinforce Alarik’s military might. But, it also means that Janez must deny himself the love he has so recently discovered with Held, the man who’d saved him from a watery death. Or, rather, it was the mermaid Calla who’d rescued Janez and then struck a bargain with a witch who’s got an ulterior motive for assisting the little mermaid. Calla has always felt different from the other mermaids, and it’s not until she takes form as a skyman that the truth comes to light. Mistaken for an enemy spy, it is Janez who then takes on the role of rescuer and brokers his savior’s release from the king’s prison.
Janez christens the stranger Held, naming him after the ship it’s assumed he had been sailing on before washing up on dry land. Language being an obstacle but not an insurmountable barrier between them, Janez opens up a new world for Held, and the miracle of it is written with an eloquence that allows the reader not only to sense Held’s awe but to experience it along with him—his new body, his wonder over his physique and what it means to him to finally feel right in this new skin, his discovery of all the sights, sounds and smells of the world. And, of course, Held’s desire to navigate his burgeoning feelings for Janez and to explore the prince’s form in an intimate way are all portrayed in a manner that allows the reader to become acquainted, right along with Held, with this world Metzger has built. This also means, however, that we experience the heartache and fear and danger along with Held too, because his initial bargain with the witch was temporary, and the second would leave him without a solid place in either the mer- or the human worlds.
Unconditional love is a sticking point in this novel, as Calla’s father not only rejects her but is willing to allow her to die before he’d see her take up with a human male, and thus begins the dramatic arc of the story—Calla’s rescue and her beholding herself to the sea witch, Calla returning to the human realms and embracing his truth as Held, Held hoping against all hope that Janez returns the love that Held feels for the prince. It’s all so resonant and everything that makes fairy tales unique unto themselves—they make you hope for and believe in the happily-ever-after even when the dark threatens to consume the light, when the evil attempts to overcome the good. The dramatic peak of the story, which is just stunning in its action and imagery, also becomes a healing moment for Alarik and Janez, the point where Alarik recalls that his blood ties are an unbreakable bond, and second chances are a precious gift.
The cast of Walking on Water is well-rounded and diverse. I especially appreciated Doktor Hauser as the cranky and plainspoken physician whose bark proved worse than his bite. He became not only ally to Janez and Held but their saving grace, and provided, single-handedly, their plausible happy ending while a certain princess provides the means to it. I also enjoyed the warm moments Janez spends with his family—the queen, his niece, his mother. Their scenes served to build our understanding of Janez’s desire for love and family, and I adore the way the author wrapped up the story in a happily-ever-after way for our romantic couple.
If you love a classic fairy tale gorgeously re-imagined, Walking on Water is it.
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