Water: Ascension is the first in Kara Dalkey’s trilogy concerning sixteen-year old Nia, a mermyd of a prominent clan in the undersea realm of Atlantis. The City is ruled by squid-like Farworlders, and their Avatars — mermyds that undergo a special bonding ritual that allows them to communicate with the Farworlders and govern Atlantis wisely. To be an Avatar is the highest honour a mermyd can achieve, and it is Nia’s dream. She believes she has a good chance at winning the position against other young candidates from other clans, but is devastated when her family instead chooses her cousin Garun instead of her.
The mystery deepens when Cephan, the young mermyd she likes, shows her a prisoner mermyd and a Farworlder that are kept as secret prisoners deep in the core of Atlantis. Nia is shocked at this, believing her city to be a purely benevolent citadel where things like dungeons and punishments are non-existent. The mystery deepens when Nia begins to suspect that her family is using magic to help Garun win the Seven Trials that each competitor must go through — and even her beloved grandfather Dyonis seems in on the conspiracy.
Ascension is followed by two more books; Reunion and Transformation and this is a beginning worthy enough to track them down, even though I am not a fan of authors/publishers that needlessly split their books into more than one volume. It will appeal most to readers between ten and twelve, as it is quite a slender book but there is quite a lot of exposition put in concerning how the bond between Avatar and Farworlders works, how the city runs and the layout of the Trials.
At times all of this is badly presented to the reader, often being too complicated or too contemporary (and with mentions of cloth existing underwater). For instance, there are references to “turtle-taxis” and “kelpaper journals,” as well as words such as “biochemical” and “having a crush (on someone).” This would not be so bad if the time-period was assumed to be contemporary, but as it turns out in later books, it’s actually set in medieval times.
But Atlantis itself is vividly portrayed, from its homes and markets, its meeting places and engineering mechanism and the “dry rooms” where air still exists to preserve documents. Kara Dalkey also has a gift with names, as all of the mermyds have appropriately aquatic, and somewhat Grecian names: Thalassa, Pelagia, Maru, Pontus and Callimar are just a few examples.
Nia herself is a great heroine: smart, athletic, spunky, but not too good to be true — her faults make her a well-rounded person, err, mermyd. She’s very easy to relate to, and her motivations are clear and understood. By the end of this particular phase in her life, most will be reaching for the next book. Also, in a completely unrelated statement, I think the cover art on this book (and the next two) are just beautiful. I know it’s wrong to judge a book by its cover, but if you did, this one would be the winner.
Water — (2002) Young adult. Publisher: The sea is the birthplace of legends. Nia, a young mermyd of the Bluefin clan, has had one wish all her life — to be an Avatar in her beloved home of Atlantis. The ten Avatars rule the beautiful and peaceful undersea city alongside the ancient Farworlders, whose magic keeps their world alive. To be an Avatar is an honor and a great responsibility, and Nia dreams of taking her place among the noble ten. Now, at sixteen, Nia has a chance to see her dream come true. Atlantis is choosing its next Avatar, and Nia knows she is supremely qualified. But there is something Nia doesn’t know — if she gets her heart’s desire, it could mean the end of her treasured world of Atlantis forever.