But this joining has come at a great cost. After generations of consanguineous marriage between the descendants of the first half-deeps queen, Angelica of Venice, the royal houses have developed a tendency to physical weakness and to give birth to atavisms who are unable to rule.
Auguries had predicted that William, perfect first-born Prince William, would have a brother to follow him. But when the courtiers first beheld the child that emerged, slick and silent from his mother's womb, none so much as dared cross himself. The deepsman strain had been preserved in royalty down the generations, prince marrying prince, cousin marrying cousin. And sometimes the salt blood thickened in the veins, cankering the flesh into mutant twists and clots that produced children such as Philip. Philip the Sufferer, second son of the King of England, fused from hip to knee in a single, solid tail, with a two stunted and withered limbs branching off beneath. The court declared him a boy, silently prayed that their guess, their hopeful view of this flat-fronted, ungenitured infant, would prove correct.
With the monarchy living in great fear of a bastard, a first generation lands-deepsman, stepping healthy and strong from the sea and challenging their rule, the price of helping such a creature is terrible: to be burnt at the stake. Thus, when a scholar finds such a child abandoned on the shore and decides to take it in, he has no choice if he is to save himself but to raise the child as a pretender to the throne of England.
The narrative of the book alternates between the bastard, Henry, with his simple first-generation deepsman view of the world, and Princess Anne, the younger daughter of the Crown Prince, who has been raised in complex world of the court by a strong but distant mother. Both children are outsiders in their own ways. Henry believes in simplicity and directness, that might and strength and honesty are what matter, that politics and nations and, most especially, religion are the foolish products of a people who spend too little time hunting for food and spend too much time creating complexities for their own sakes. Anne, on the other hand, is a shy and deeply religious child who trades on her appearance — her face phosphoresces blue when she becomes embarrassed — to pretend simplicity and to hide from her grandfather's court. This difference between the two main characters is greatly emphasized by their language choices. Anne speaks, reads and writes a number of languages, and is particularly alert to subtle changes in address and word choice. Henry, in contrast, refuses to read or learn Latin, eschewing subtly in favour of simple directness and becoming annoyed at the circumlocutions of others — he particularly objects to the use of honorifics and titles, choosing to call the great aristocrats of the land by name rather than by the name of their demesne.
As well as strong and consistent world-building and a pair of strong narrators, In Great Waters also features a strong cast of supporting characters. Foremost among these is Erzebet, Anne's mother, who seems to be exactly the sort of ruler Machiavelli envisions in The Prince, for she is strong-willed, ruthless and possessed of the belief that it is more important for a ruler to be feared than loved. With Edward aging rapidly, William gone and Philip unable to comprehend anything but the simplest concepts, Erzebet is clearly being groomed by the King to be his effective successor. Also excellent are the two Claybrooks, father and son. Robert, Earl of Thames, is the consummate courtier, always smiling and always maneuvering to strengthen his position as Philip's advisor. John, Thames' son, is almost the opposite; open, honest and good humoured, he is friendly with both Anne and, covertly, with Henry, able to bridge the gap between the pair.
In Great Waters is a clever, beautifully written book with strong characters, set against a wonderfully convincing backdrop. While there many be a couple of moments that don't quite work, these are rare and are more than offset by the sudden moments when one of the characters will have a sudden realisation that casts previous events into a new light. I think it might just be my favourite book of the year so far.