The Water Mirror is a strong start to a series that gives a small sense of resolution at the end but really ends mid-adventure. Before it ends though it has introduced enough characters, plots, and teasing hints that the reader is left wanting much more. It’s certainly one of the better beginnings out there. The setting is an alternate Venice whose canals are filled with sharp- teethed mermaids, whose streets are patrolled by stone lions (a few of which can fly), and whose people are protected by the mysterious Flowing Queen, who has kept them safe for 30 years while they are besieged by the Egyptian empire and its mummy armies that have seemingly conquered nearly all of the world save Venice and Hell.
Yes, it turns out Hell is a real place, discovered some years ago, and its ruler is offering Venice aid against the Egyptians (merely a pinprick of blood for all Venetians is the cost). Into this context come two young orphan girls, Merle (who has the eponymous magical water mirror) and Junipa (who is blind), newly apprenticed to Arcimboldo, maker of magic mirrors. Soon after their apprenticeship Junipa is given silver mirrors for eyes, allowing her to see, and Merle meets Serafin, a young weaver’s apprentice and master thief. Soon, all of them, along with Arcimboldo’s housekeeper Eft, are caught up in the political and military chaos: Hell’s ruler is getting impatient with the Venetian Council’s stalling with regard to his offers of alliance, some on the Council have decided to sell out to the Egyptian ruler and the Flowing Queen has lost her ability to protect the city and been captured in a vial of water. And there’s also a centuries old flying stone lion to be freed, though he may or may not be sane. Though Merle is the main character and the one who takes on the major quest to save the city, the others also have their roles to play, some more mysterious than others’.
The setting is nicely detailed and atmospheric. The history is concisely but credibly conveyed. The characters are well-constructed and developed enough so that one wants to know more and see more with regard to them all. The plot is swift-moving, suspenseful, and engaging and Meyer does an excellent job of revealing just enough to pique the reader’s interest, whether it be with regard to Hell or Egypt or Merle’s magic mirror or Junipa’s eyes, etc. The Water Mirror is a rich read, with much to like and almost nothing to complain about. A quick and engaging read whose only disappointment is the wait until the next book comes along. Strongly recommended.
The Water Mirror by Kai Meyer is set in an alternative Venice where mermaids swim the canals and the city guards patrol on stone lions. Two young orphan girls are apprenticed to Arcimbaldo, a mysterious craftsman of magical mirrors. Merle, the more adventurous of the pair, joins with Serafin, an apprentice from across the road, in some innocent flirtations that turn into a dangerous quest when they overhear some of the Councilors conspiring to capture the Flowing Queen, the mysterious goddess responsible for protecting Venice from the encircling mummy troops of the Egyptian empire. As they seek to protect the city that is their home, they will make strange alliances, discover hidden secrets, and learn the truth about the Flowing Queen.
This novel for young adults is a fantastical journey through a setting that is imbued with magic, while the actual practice of magic is outlawed. Kai Meyer wrote the tale in German, and the translation is excellent, creating a pace that meanders through the canals as the characters are introduced, but then picks up as the action unfolds. The characters are well-drawn personalities, and Meyer has a gift for small descriptive details that distinguish characters from each other, like Junipa’s mirrored eyes and the housekeeper’s mask.
My main criticism is that Meyer introduces several new plot points in the final chapters, so the story doesn’t actually have any sort of temporary conclusion, but instead just a lull in the action. While I understand that Meyer is trying to set up a trilogy, it is an unsatisfying ending to an exquisitely written tale. The overall excellence of the book makes the ending even more disappointing.
I listened to the Listening Library’s recording of this story, and was highly impressed with the narrator, Toby Longworth. Mr. Longworth has an amazing range of voices and a deeply resonant reading voice that imbued the setting with all the mystery and magic that any author could desire. I will definitely be reading the next two volumes in this series, and would recommend The Water Mirror to all young adult audiences, and adults who like historical fantasy.
Dark Reflections — (2005-2007) Young adult. Publisher: Winged stone lions fly through the skies of an imagined Venice, which is besieged by the armies of a revived Egyptian Pharaoh. Orphans Merle and her blind friend Junipa are apprenticed to Arcimboldo, the maker of mysterious mirrors, and find his housekeeper, Unke wears a mask to hide her mermaid’s wide mouth of sharp shark’s teeth. Merle carries a mirror made of water, and Unke feels the vibration of her connection with the mystical Flowing Queen who protects the Venice lagoon. In the mirror Junipa sees something she cannot tell. Meeting the attractive pickpocket Serafin, Merle overhears corrupt Venetian councilors making a deal with the Egyptians, over a flask containing the essence of the Flowing Queen. Serafin is caught, but Merie flees with the flask and is convinced by the Queen to drink its contents, and from then on carries the Flowing Queen inside her. Envoys from Hell — in this world, a real, geographical place — arrive in Campo San Marco, demanding Venice forms an alliance with Hell, or be destroyed. Vermithrax, one of the last talking stone lions, whisks Merle up from the burning piazza, and away over the mountains to find help…