Water Witch by Connie Willis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
On the planet of Mahali, where the ancient talent for water-witching has been replaced by a computerized system, two characters collide: Deza, daughter of a con artist whose plan has gone horribly awry; and Radi, on a royally appointed mission to deal with the threat of the Tycoon. The story incorporates romance, adventure and intrigue on a river-ride to what seems like a no-win conclusion.
The feel of this story is intriguing: it's either a science fiction story with fantasy trappings, or a fantasy story with science fiction trappings, depending on how you look at it. Because of this, despite the fact the book is almost thirty years old, the science in it wears very well. The only part that made me burst out laughing was a bit about the lack of communications between the Tycoon's compound and the City due to the lack of landlines. Oh really?
However, for me, the emotional dimensions weren't always written fully and convincingly. In particular, I didn't buy into the love story. In a story that was otherwise fairly deep into the character's heads, much of the chemistry was introduced through actions without support of thought or emotion. Now, I hate the romance novel cliche of bashing the reader over the head with the "mysterious feelings," but this book goes too far in the other direction.
In addition, I never got the impression that Radi loved Sheria (the princess he starts the story engaged to) - it read like a marriage of convenience, and I was surprised when he was upset later on. (Contributing to my confusion was the fact that Radi seemed to think nothing of sleeping with another woman. This is somewhat fitting to the time period of the setting the SF millieu mimics, but it was never explained or even mentioned, so I was left with a slightly sour puzzlement.)
I'm not quite sure whether the principle development in the latter half of the story was meant to be a surprise; it was certainly obvious to me from before the character was even introduced, which leads me to believe the reader was meant to know, but who knows.
The character of the father and how he is incorporated into the story as a deceased spirit is great, and his commentary throughout is a delight. This story also has one of the best one-thing-after-another sequences, as character after character barges into Deza's bedroom to speak with her. It's so tight and perfect that I put the book down at the end of the last entrance and howled. The character of Edvar (the Tycoon's son) is also a refreshing surprise.
Overall, this was a solid story with some shining moments, but I felt that it lacked some depth and intensity, and I would have enjoyed the romance better if the setup had been more distinct.
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