This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.
‘What the sea takes for its own can never return…
‘Portugal, 1750s. Cecilia Lamb knew being a sea captain’s wife would mean a life of waiting and watching the horizon for her husband’s ship. But John has been gone longer than any voyage should last.
‘Everyone else has given up hope of his return. But she knows in her bones that he is not lost. Gone, but not lost.
‘Barely able to tear her eyes from the shimmering sea, she feels drawn to the sun-baked shoreline, and amid the bustle of the docks she feels certain that her husband will come back to her.
‘Though along with that feeling is another sense – that something darker is coming. As she sickens, she doesn’t know what the next tide will bring – but she begins to fear as well as crave her husband’s homecoming.
‘Soon, even on dry land, Cecilia can feel the pull of the ocean at her feet, the movement of the tides within her. Warning, seduction or promise, she cannot tell, but one thing is certain – the sea holds many secrets, and some of them are too powerful to ever be drowned.’
In The Water Child, by Mathew West, we follow young Cecilia Lamb around the streets, markets, and docks of eighteenth-century Portugal as she waits for her captain husband, John, to return from the sea.
Largely isolated in a foreign country, Cecilia starts to experience startling visions and impossible symptoms. But will things be any better when John does make it home?
The Water Child has a lot to recommend it. West’s vivid, multisensory portrayal of a buzzing commercial town on the edge of Europe in the 1700s give it a real sense of place, teeming with possibilities and people from all over the world.
I also very much appreciated the descriptions of Cecilia and John’s house and its contents, as well as the ruined old castle Cecilia visits with her friends. The former further anchors the story in its time and context, while the latter is highly atmospheric.
I was particularly compelled by the supernatural features of the story, especially Cecilia’s occasional second sight, and the reason she finally receives for her mysterious illness.
While I’d have loved the author to have made more of these elements, keeping them subtle does have the effects of creating a lingering sense of unease, and leaving things open to the reader’s interpretation. Personally, I was all for a paranormal, as opposed to rational, explanation of the events in the book!
I really liked the character of Cecilia. Despite her youth and straitened position as an eighteenth-century woman, she is independently-minded, strong-willed, and brave. I enjoyed reading about her background as a youngest child who had mainly been left to her own devices, which explains her personality and choices.
Cecilia’s relationships with other women are also well-considered. While she’s critical of some aspects of her peers’ lifestyles, and doesn’t often share their opinions, she nonetheless recognises their positive attributes, and seeks them out for advice and comradeship.
It was additionally heart-warming to watch Cecilia’s interactions with her Portguese maid, Rosalie, become easier over time.
The Water Child is vivid, compelling, and subtly creepy.