the Little Red Reviewer

The Waters Rising, by Sheri S Tepper

Posted on: December 20, 2010

  Xulai (Shoo-Lie, rhymes with July. Isn’t that a cool name??) lives as a servant in the household of Duke Justinian and his Tingawan wife Princess Xu-i-Lok. After they were married and the Princess learned she had been cursed, they requested a soul carrier from her Tingawan homeland. Xulai is that soul carrier. Appearing as a child of seven or eight, Xulai’s only use in life is to be with the Princess when she dies (which could be any moment), and then return to Tingawa with the Princess’s soul. In the meantime, Xulai is taught and protected by Precious Wind, who came with her from Tingawa, and Bear, a Tingawan Warrior. Early on, when we first meet Xulai, she is approached by an unusual traveler, Abasio, and his even more unusual talking horse, Blue. Abasio and Blue will prove to be the best part of the story. 

The Princess does die, and she does give her soul (and something else) to Xulai. Tingawa lies across the sea, and it is decided the safest way to get there is to travel to the southern end of the continent to a port city where a Tingawan ship is waiting. It is of the utmost importance that Xulai reach Tingawa. But the roads are dangerous, and on the way they stop at the abbey, which seems more a center of population than a religious center. There is corruption afoot, as the Queen of the realm, Mirami, and her daugher, Alicia, are constantly fighting each other for power. When Precious Wind and Abasio learn they have been betrayed at the abbey, the party continues south, even more cautious than before.

Much of the plot revolves around the journey south and avoiding Mirami, Alicia, and their mentor the Dark Old Man. Xulai may appear as a child, but she is older than she looks. In fact, many of the characters are not what they appear to be. Once Xulai discovers who and what she is, plans must be laid to keep the truth safe.

In this alternate far future, the earth is a mess. We learn through information changing hands and children asking questions that after the pollution, and the genetic engineering disasters, and The Big Kill, populations are now small, and land masses smaller. As the waters continue to rise, people just move their houses and villages further up the mountains.  But one day the waters will rise all the way, there will be no more mountaintops.

Did you see what I did there? We learn all this through dialogue and people asking questions of other people. Much of the dialogue of The Waters Rising feels half infodump half soliloquy. There was much people talking at each other, rather than with each other, and it comes off as amateurish. As much as I enjoyed the talking animals and the beautiful Tingawan culture, this book very quickly became a struggle for me to get through. It just dragged and didn’t stop. 

Beyond the strangely written dialogue, The Rising Waters has trouble deciding what it’s going to be. Is it about Xulai and Abasio? Is it about all the corruption in the royal court and Mirami and Alicia fighting over who will rule the Kingdom? Is it about the relationship between the Tingawan People and the Sea Peoples? Is Xulai the main character? Is Precious Wind the main character? What about Alicia, is she the main character? I have no problem with multiple storylines and multiple main characters, but Tepper never seemed to commit to anything. When the “twist” comes at the end we are told directly that such-and-such subplots don’t matter in the slightest to the people running the show. If those subplots were of absolutely zero importance, why did Tepper spend so many hundreds of pages on them, and why did I have to read about them? But Abasio and Blue, still the best part of the book. Why couldn’t they have been the main focus? They were actually interesting!

 The Waters Rising starts out as a coming-of-age post apocalytpic mystery quest type thing. By the end it turns into a heavy handed frustrated mess. Tepper does explain everything, but for the most part it was too little too late, and when it did show up it was so heavy handed I nearly put the book down, never to be picked up again, with only 40 pages to go. Many times while I was reading The Waters Rising I had to look at the cover to make sure this was indeed, written by Sheri S Tepper, and not some Sheri Stepper, or Sherist Epper or someone. How could the woman who wrote Raising the Stones and Sideshow, two of my favorite novels when I was growing up, have written something this confused and unfocused? As times I was so disappointed I wanted to cry. If it was a movie I would want my eight bucks back. 

And yes, this is sort of a sequel to Tepper’s A Plague of Angels, which I have not read. But I get the impression reading that would not make this book any better, and that The Waters Rising works just fine as a standalone.

Believe it or not, it is not fun for me to write negative reviews. I so want to enjoy what I’m reading, especially when it is by an author I’ve enjoyed in the past.  Sheri S Tepper, what happened to you???

7 Responses to "The Waters Rising, by Sheri S Tepper"

Aww that’s too bad. I was looking forward to this too…I’m really glad you reviewed it. I’ll probably still read it at some point, but I think I’ll try the other two Tepper novels you mentioned first. 🙂


Escapist, by all means give The Waters Rising a try. Just because it didn’t work for me doesn’t mean it won’t work for others. Tepper’s Sideshow and Raising the Stones are on my TBR (to be re-read?) list for 2011.

this poor book also suffered the fate of being read right after The Lions of Al-Rassan, one of the most incredible books ever written. Anything read right after that book will look mediocre at best.


I had the same reaction: how can this be Tepper? By far the weakest book she’s written, and I think I’ve read them all. Quit halfway through.

BTW She’s written some very different mystery books under 2 different pseudonyms (you can find her pseudonyms on the web). Different genre and style but quite good too.


I’m sorry you folks didn’t enjoy it more….I’d read ‘a plague of angles’ a few times over the past decade or so, and was really happy with this new book. I was glad to see Abasio get a happy ending for one, and also it was nice to have a lot of my questions answered. I’d always wondered about the backstory…how did all these fantasy elements get mixed in with a post apocalyptic story etc….so it was nice to finally get more info on that…..
plus i really liked the Precious Wind character…


I really should have read A Plague of Angels first! I wish there had been some mention on this book that it was a sequel to Plague. 😦 I suppose I could read them in backwards order?


I’m trying a second reading but it’s not grabbing me any more than the first, when it was published. Very disappointing.

But I can re-read Grass and Raising the Stones and Jinian Footseer and The Family Tree and Gate to Women’s Country very happily every year or so, and the mysteries wear very well indeed.


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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