In this second book of Pamela Freeman’s Castings trilogy, we continue the story of the three main characters, Ash, Bramble and Martine, on what is almost a journey of discovery for them. The three characters, apparently only recent companions, are following a trail to stop a sorcerer who is raising the ghosts of the long-dead in rebellion of an historical conqueror.
Freeman has continued the unusual style premiered in Blood Ties (the first book), in which each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character, including a great many by secondary, sometimes almost incidental, characters. This technique can be challenging to read, as the main thread of the story is frequently interrupted by these digressions. Oddly, in this book, I personally found the incidental vignettes the most enjoyable, particularly the “flashbacks” to ancient times that Bramble experiences when she inhabits another body in the past, and the accompanying inserts encapsulating the lives of the minor characters there.
In many ways, I feel the style of this series is reflective of Freeman’s writing heritage. A well-known children’s author, the Castings trilogy is Freeman’s first foray into adult fantasy. It might be an erroneous assumption, but the length of chapters and choppy telling of the story, breaking it into so many chunks, gives the book a certain feel, much like a young adult or children’s novel. Additionally, the writing is not overly exigent in adult themes. In the previous book, I felt that violence or scenes of a sexual nature were slightly forced. These areas of the writing are somewhat more natural in Deep Water, as though Freeman is starting to feel more comfortable with the edgier parts of the story.
I do have a complaint about the characterization of the novel. Despite the fact I read book one last year, I found it very difficult to get a feel for the main characters in this story. Their ages and appearances are nebulous, and the images I began to work up of them over the course of the book were often shattered when a new piece of information about the character was given. Age seemed to be an especially difficult aspect of the characters for me, as the experiences shared for the characters often seemed at odds with their apparent ages, or perhaps even the picture of their age I had built based on narrative voice and other cues. The character of Martine in particular seems incongruous in the way she is written to the age she is meant to be. Leof (a secondary character in book one who has gained prominence in this book) is also difficult to pin to an age. The experience he must have to hold the position he does is incongruent with the way in which he is written. Perhaps this is a fault in my reading rather than the writing, but I found it consistently odd throughout the book.
In my opinion, Freeman is still settling into writing the adult fantasy genre, and she will continue to improve in this style. She is making a contribution to fantasy writing and perhaps even breaking ground with the unusual style of chapterising snippets of secondary characters’ lives as part of the main narrative backstory. I hope to see the primary story flow more smoothly to its conclusion in book three, and applaud Freeman for both the risks she takes and the story she is unfolding.