Book Review: The Chanters of Tremaris: The Waterless Sea by Kate Constable

This is the second book in a trilogy, and I read this book about a year after I read the first one. I remember having liked the first one, but I didn’t go back and review the plot. That said, it took me until about page 30 to remember everything that had happened. Then it all came back. The trilogy is a middle-grade/young adult fantasy following Calwyn, a chanter who escapes her home in the icy mountains and discovers an entire world—a troubled one—that needs her help. In this installment, Calwyn and her diverse group of friends (some have the gift of chantment; others are good at sailing, others at navigating the desert or healing) are on a quest to rescue chanters from dire living conditions. In this world, chanters (who use song to control the world) are feared in society and exploited by those with evil intentions.

But aside from the main quest, there are plenty of subplots to keep things interesting. At the end of the first book, Calwyn’s love interest, Darrow, has left her. Though they seemed—at times—perfect for one another, Darrow never fully opened up to her. In this second book, Darrow is still missing, and Calwyn wishes he would return. She thinks of him when her quest becomes difficult or lonely. At times, imagining what Darrow would do in a situation even provides her strength. To keep up the suspense, the author provides some of the chapters through Darrow’s perspective. He is returning from his own journey, and he thinks about Calwyn, too. He is disappointed when she isn’t waiting for him at home. I enjoyed the alternating perspectives, especially because I learned much about Darrow’s troubled childhood and his motivations for acting so unpredictable (I won’t spoil this, as it is revealed slowly throughout the novel). That said, I was disappointed when they finally did reunite. While they definitely helped each other as far as the quest was concerned, their romance seemed short-lived and fizzled when Darrow would not open up to Calwyn, hiding elements of his past from her. The spark that each of them imagined never manifested in reality.

Aside from the innocent romance, I enjoyed the underlying themes and the diversity of characters. For example, some of the characters were raised along the sea or in the forest, while others grew up in the desert. When they encounter desert or water, the characters show interesting opinions on what is scary versus desirable in life—and as you can imagine, their views differ. This helps to stress the reason so many of the factions in their world are at war. In the end, it turns out all everyone needed was a little dose of understanding. Still, although the external conflicts are resolved for the time being, Calwyn experiences her own troubles. She has been discovering slowly that she has a talent for many gifts of chantment (chanters can normally only sing one kind of chantment). In the first book, an evil man had been traveling the globe in an effort to learn all the types of songs, fulfilling a prophesy that someone would eventually become the “singer of all songs” and wield great power. Many of the characters hint that Calwyn is on her way to become this singer, and the implications disturb her greatly. There is also a question over whether the villain was actually killed in book one—a question left to be answered in the final installment. I won’t give away anything else about this conflict as it seems to be the most important part of the story.

From a writer’s point of view, I enjoyed the alternating viewpoints and the use of interpersonal conflicts to mirror global ones. I would have liked just a bit more imagery to describe some of the settings, though I thought the desert was particularly well described.

The bottom line: This is a fun read for a middle-grade or young adult lover of fantasy.