Whispers from the Depths by C.W. Briar
Uncommon Universes Press (February 2019)
296 pages; $24.99 hardcover; $17.58 paperback; $4.99 e-book
Reviewed by Kevin Lucia
I usually don’t read much fantasy. While a lot of it’s well-written, it’s just not necessarily my cup of tea. However, I thoroughly enjoyed C.W. Briar’s debut collection Wrath and Ruin a few years ago, so I felt more than confident in taking a chance on his fantasy about water witches. I’m happy to say it paid off.
Whispers From the Depths is an engaging fantasy about a world in which the Whisperers—a priesthood of water witches, if you will—have fallen into cruel servitude under a king who worships a likewise cruel god. Able to communicate with, control, and defend against the spirits which roam the waters of the world, the Whisperers made the ultimate error generations ago. They betrayed their principles by supporting a king’s selfish whims, instead of serving the people. Now they believe they’ve been forced into service as penance for their mistakes.
Enter Betka, a young Whisperer who has had enough. After years of rough treatment, after first watching her sister be taken into service, and then being ripped away from her father, a desire for freedom and revenge boils deep inside. Whisperers are scorned, mocked, and treated as untouchable. How much longer can she willingly serve her tormentors?
When she and a fellow Whisperer are tasked with attempting to recover a castle—the castle her sister serves in–besieged by strange, dark water magic, Betka is faced with a choice. Does she faithfully fulfill her calling as Whisperer and serve her masters? Will she restrain her desire for revenge and serve, despite her yearning for freedom? Or will she use the chaos and danger surrounding the submerged castle as an avenue of escape? And if she does…what price will she pay?
Fantasy tales are often allegorical, and that can either be for good or ill. If the allegory is too heavy-handed and too symbolic, it serves a “message” and not the story, and just isn’t enjoyable. Allegories work best when their aims are universal, and this is where Whispers From the Depths succeeds, delivering a humbling—and surprising—message about sacrifice, and the cost of betraying our principles to feed our anger. As a female character, Betka’s strength comes not from her magic or even just her fortitude, but in her ability to choose the higher road. Highly recommended.