Truly, Genuinely Unique Epic Fantasy: The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez

Posted 25th August 2022 by Sia in Crescent Classics, Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 0 Comments

The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez
Genres: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Secondary World Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Brown cast, amputee MC, M/M
Published on: 30th August 2022
ISBN: B08MPV7Z6Q
Goodreads
five-stars

A reluctant warrior goes on the run with an ancient goddess through a lush world full of wild magic, wondrous creatures, and hidden enemies in this beautiful epic fantasy from the author of The Vanished Birds.

In the land of the Strangled Throat, the people suffer under the rule of a despotic Emperor. His sons, the Three Terrors, despoil the countryside and oppress its citizens. When Keema Daware--a fierce warrior who lost his left arm in battle--finds the mythic Empress, who has escaped from her royal imprisonment, at his sentry outpost, he must make a choice: turn her in and evade the wrath of the Three Terrors, or help her overthrow the government and free a nation.

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Highlights

~stories within stories
~dreams within dreams
~telepathic tortoises
~an inverted theatre
~if it really came to it, what would you sacrifice?

There are no other books like this book.

No, really.

Not because there are no other stories like this story – all stories are like all other stories, it’s a fundamental, sacred mystery of storytelling – but because the way in which Jimenez tells this story is something new and unique.

Really.

*

The Spear Cuts Through Water is not what I expected it to be – and no matter how many in-depth, super-detailed, professionally-analytical reviews you read before you pick it up, this book won’t be what you expect, either. There is no way to be prepared for Jimenez’ latest masterpiece; you can’t possibly imagine everything you will meet, see, and experience on this journey. However you pack your bags for it, you will not be ready.

You can try and play tourist, if you like, with sunscreen and map and phrasebook in your pocket. But by the end of The Spear Cuts Through Water, you’ll find yourself an immigrant instead, drawn in and changed and made a part of the dreamwilds Jimenez has spun into being here.

I don’t think this book would have hit me quite like it did had I had a more detailed idea of what to expect. The short, minimal blurb once frustrated me; now I’m incredibly glad I went in basically blind. And besides, no description can possibly do it justice. The Spear Cuts Through Water is a shapeshifter, morphing from one thing – one kind of story – to another, and another, and back again, quick and graceful as a dolphin dancing through waves. It’s one story, and two stories, and a hundred stories intertwined, sagas and whispers and white hot flashes where they cross and touch. It’s dreamy and visceral, soft and brutal, earthy and mythic, a tapestry of contradictions that nonetheless coheres into an incredible, breathtaking whole.

You can fault the dancer, but more often than not, it is the dance itself that has to change.

There are two young men and their grandmothers; one man is a prince, and one is not. One grandmother is a goddess and empress, and the other very much isn’t. Their stories do not run parallel, but are interdependent, each vital to the other’s existence. This is a book about dreams – dreams of the past, the future, the idealised history we hold to, the gleaming future we want to build. And I think it’s fair to say it’s equally a book about nightmares; this is an unquestionably, objectively excellent book, but it is not nice. It’s magical, ephemeral, one moment; then blunt, crude, graphic the next. There is suffering, torture, death, and some extremely fucked-up people. There is injustice and sadism and cruelty.

(It’s all purposeful, though. It’s sometimes shocking, but never present just for shock-value. This book is very much a brutally honest examination of what a myth looks like before it’s idealised, or under the gilt later generations add to great events. In a horrible way, the awfulness anchors the magic – makes it real.)

But there’s also incredible tenderness, incredible humanity, that nameless celebration of how fragile and wonderful and precious it is that we all exist. There’s hope and humour, people working together, strangers being kind to strangers. Plus…

“This is a love story to its blade-dented bone.”

From the very first page, from the very first line, it is immediately obvious that The Spear Cuts Through Water is something spectacularly special. That impression crystallises further into certainty with every page you turn. Jimenez weaves multiple layers of story together to create a stunning edifice, an unfamiliar but powerful structure which is the framework for the tale(s) being told – and oh, how I want to talk about that! I want to dive in and joyfully dissect his structure in particular; I want to write essays about the constellation of merely-mortal voices that dart, there and gone, across the narrative like shooting stars, illuminating the reality of what it means to be caught in the crosshairs of legend!

(They’re a reminder that the sagas we celebrate have body counts, and that those bodies matter, even when the story’s not about them. We tend to overlook, or skip over, the loss of civilian life when we’re focussed on the enmity between Batman and the Joker – we only care about the injury or death of named characters – but Jimenez makes us care about them all.)

And I can’t go into exhaustive detail, because you need to discover it for yourselves, but I have to say that what Jimenez has done here isn’t just extraordinary; it’s revolutionary. This is storytelling like I’ve never seen it, and I don’t mean that the story he’s telling is a unique one – although it is! I’m talking about the way he tells it, the style and craft and artistry that’s gone into structuring this book. I’m sure some readers are going to call it experimental, but I disagree strongly; The Spear Cuts Through Water is what comes after an experiment, after a successful experiment; it is what a positive, promising result becomes when it is then polished and refined and perfected.

This book is not an experiment because dear gods, Jimenez knows what he’s doing.

“The telling of tales beyond even my knowing.”

I have discarded so many drafts of this review, because no matter what I try, I can’t explain this book to you. I’m serious about the dark awfulness in it – please look up the content warnings; I would try writing them out for you, but I lost track after the cannibalism – but this book is, genuinely, in a league of its own. Reading it, I was mesmerised, I was invested, and I geeked out so hard over the sheer craft that went into it. I don’t know if I liked it, but I loved it, and it feels unfair to call it Jimenez’s magnum opus – how rude and presumptuous to claim he’s peaked, when this is only his second novel! – but I have to admit that I can’t imagine anyone outdoing this book, simply in terms of sheer technical artistry.

I guarantee that you have never seen anything like The Spear Cuts Through Water before – and I doubt you ever will again. This is a once-in-a-lifetime book.

Don’t miss it.

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