S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.
The Waters of Nyra is an interesting thing for me. For one, it is a friend’s endeavor. For another, I helped push it through the doors, the end result being the pretty little book sitting beside my desk. One day it will see a mate, and I will possibly have the answers to some very curious questions. Until then, book one.
Something I did not admit to at the time, but saw little reason to worry Kelly about: I tend to be critical over a friend’s writing. Over any writing. If the writing style is a broken mule, if the grammar looks like a smithy dwarf tried to form a haiku, I shudder and look away. I often turn to simple story-telling with friends, because it’s safer. They may not excel there either, but at least I don’t strain my eyes (I’m nearly legally blind as it is). That being said, The Waters of Nyra is not poorly written. Yes, it made me feel like I was in sixth grade again–but for a simple, private joy, not some irksome crime against literature (I jest, by the by. Writing in itself is a joy that is free to be experienced by all–the crime is expectation). It was in sixth grade that I ran across my first Brian Jacques story, my first discovery of Redwall. Until then, my experience with animals being characters in books was limited to Aesop’s Fables. I’m not particularly sure if I’d actually read The Chronicles of Narnia by this stage (though I know I’d seen the BBC adaptation several times over). Mind, these are all books I still own and read. I adore them. One of the simplest joys of my childhood was escaping into the mind of a beast. It’s with this in mind that 2121 has characters like Vegas Star. I enjoy them. So to be told that Nyra was a draggling, in a society of dragons, wasn’t the least bit troublesome. To discover that opening the cover was like stepping into my childhood again, was just plain disturbing.
I am a vivid person. Call it the schizophrenia, the intelligence, or the just plain weirdness, my brain is one big ball of concentrated experiences. So when I read the first few lines of The Waters of Nyra, a new experience took form. Slowly, the smells and awkward noises of my middle school library lifted away and were replaced by fresh coffee and my cat’s dusty fur. I was intrigued by the lack of “bad” writing. It wasn’t just the lack, it was that it was rather good. I’d never seen Kelly’s writing before to have an idea of what I was getting into, I’d only known that we had enjoyed some of the same things.
What I enjoyed about this was simple. It was a world. It was a world through the eyes of a young one, soon to be not-so-young–a world of discovery, beautiful and painful all at once. There were dragons, yes. There were multiple races of dragons, in conflict with one another, as any other society of beings tends to be. There were very dark things lurking so close–the implications behind Thaydra’s missing wing an early warning. Nyra’s people were an oppressed people, but as a child living under the oppression, it was all Nyra knew. The gap of thought between generations is clear and well-written for such a difficult topic. As a reader, you experience the story through Nyra (almost entirely, as far as book one is concerned), and she, in essence, has blinders on. When they are removed, violently, she is forced to go on a journey of growth and discovery, both physical and mental. Her world expands. She meets other dragons, other creatures. She is alone, and she is not alone.
Something struck me early on as critical, and it only comes into play at the very end of the book. Nyra herself observes that the glowing orb of light in the Green Spot to be similar to the one the elder Fuhorn takes out during their secretive Gathering, the orb with such significance. The orb that is proof that will save the Agrings. The orb is a physical representation to them of hope, much like a written pact. If only someone can escape their oppressors and send word to the Zealers for help. …So what of that second orb? The Green Spot was special, yes, but I wanted a reason.
Kelly gave me a reason. Not through explanation, not through talking it over with me, but by crafting a plot point that resounded hard with something that was told to Nyra early on: they tell the stories so that the young may know. So that the information is not lost. But stories always have a minimum of two versions. Not only did I enjoy the revelation of this moment, of its execution, but I enjoyed it for what it was: the promise of something altogether unexpected. It left me with the distinct understanding that The Waters of Nyra‘s second half would be something I’d have to discover in the second half. This is not always the case with books, and it was refreshing.
My favorite character (and yes, I do feel the need to stress characters when I review–I read for characters), was a swiftly made choice. Oharassie. Sure, the Xerfexes had my attention, beings so different from Nyra while still in essence being the same thing–dragons. But Oharassie had a quality to him that I find endearing in these sorts of stories: the wise. He was unobtrusive, quietly quirky, friendly, a parent and a friend. He didn’t force anything on Nyra, but simply nudged her. Nyra would not have liked the forcing. I was left with the distinct impression that she needed someone like him then, and that therefore was a relationship I wanted prolonged. I enjoyed Nyra. I speak of her briefly in a previous review I’d written, but it’s because I have simple thoughts towards her. She is enjoyable. She is believable. She is coming of age, a dragon, a born slave, named after her land, in essence, for the concept of freedom and future promise. She acts out, she misbehaves, she is punished. She loves, she pouts, she misunderstands. She is a very full creature, and hardly a disappointment to be the reader’s eyes as she makes her way.
For all that this story was up against in my weird little grey matter platter full of concepts and biases, The Waters of Nyra warmed me. It was made its place in my heart, and I read it in six hours in one sitting, missing sleep without a care. Sleep can come later. The land of dreams is very much a book of its own, and I will open it when I am good and ready, and I was not. That is the sort of book Kelly has written. In short, reading Nyra wasn’t a task. It was an experience. An exercise in something that I’d long forgotten, had banished to the realms of “books I loved as a child”. The books that, no matter how many times I move, are the first things packed, carefully, lovingly. If you know me, you know I lose a lot when I move. I refuse to lose these things, these physical, relivable memories.
An extra tidbit since I find it important to my experience with this book. When Kelly sent me my copy, I found in its pages a gift card. This flustered me, because it was too much a joy to be involved to actually need such a thing, but one can’t insult another’s kindness, either. So how could I make this gift, this experience, even more memorable to me (and worth the extra effort for her!)? I spent a few hours considering my now greatly reduced library. I lost my Redwall series in a hurricane, but that was twenty-two books (much apologies if I’m off in that count) and there were smaller, equally memorable series that needed help.
There is a dedication in 2121: The Redford Files in regards to my best friend, Britt. The girl who explored these worlds with me, growing up. The girl who would never get to read my own creation. Before she died, she was making an effort to fill her library of these very sort of books, wasn’t she? And she had borrowed a few of mine, to read, while she did so. Animorphs. Growing up, we each owned every other ten books. Between us, we owned the series. It was she who discovered it, she who showed me books one and two when I was in fourth grade. She had picked them up at the Scholastic book fair. And they changed something in my mind, something in the ways I regarded words. That was the starting point for me. Well, jump forward over a decade, and I own the full series, short two books, which Britt owned. I would get them one day, I reasoned. Dangerous words for an out of print series, but the internet has made such words less painful. She had borrowed the chunk she was lacking for several months, but finally returned them to me. I noticed The Sickness was missing. A very singular book, as far as the characters’ experiences go. Book 29. So I texted her this fact, alongside my little note of love. She didn’t respond; she never responded to things anymore. It was the last one-sided communication I had with her in life. Fast forward a year, and what is left of her belongings is being sorted out. Much of it stolen or ruined in rain. I hoped to find that book, so ironically named. I did not, but I picked up the two books I was missing from my collection before. Still playing the sharing game, even in death.
Yes, I would finally fill that gap. Book 29 would return to its place, and I would, for the first time in my life, own the complete collection of Animorphs. I could associate such a triumph with this book, this new experience. What I’ve known of Kelly has always been a wonderful, kind spirit, friendly in ways that that particular group of kids were. All this drama aside, I’d made a decision. Used books online come fairly cheap, aside from shipping costs. What else? Ah, Everworld. A friend in high school had once given me book 2 of the 12 volume series (K. A. Applegate, same as Animorphs). It renewed my fervor for words at the time, of memories in words. I had never read that series, but it was just as endearing, engrossing, as her other. I’ve since read them through libraries. Book 1, you will come to me. One day, the other ten. But for now, book 1. Shipping costs are adding up. What to finalize the deal? Feeling, having associated Kelly’s book with my terrible love of Animorphs and Norse (and alien) gods, it would only be fair to look at two particular hard covers that elude my grasp. Sure, I own The Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but the version I own is aged, highlighted, and generic. One day I’d like to own one with that damned goofy face. But it cost too much, so I set my eye on the next task. The one that I can never seem to be satisfied with. The Chronicles of Narnia. I owned a complete volume once (paperback), that mysteriously vanished, as things are wont to do when you’re crazy and/or move a lot. It took years to replace, and when I did, it was simply because of a pricing error that saved me forty dollars. I was not satisfied with the books themselves. Where were the original arts I remembered? They were as much a part of the books as the words, back then. I found a copy, and my head spun. Two dollars. The next price tier was fifty. Someone was (supposedly) selling this particular volume I wanted, for two dollars, in (supposedly) good condition. Nevermind if it lacked its dust cover, never mind if it was just a paperback masquerading. It was two dollars and a chance. I took the leap of faith. I received that dusty old hardcover, with its red ribbon, its dust cover, its colorful old drawings and maps. I received the book I had been looking for years for, for two dollars.
Whatever Kelly’s experience has been over the years of writing The Waters of Nyra, of setting it aside, of deciding to finalize the experience, of sharing that with me, this was my experience with this book. Because the experience isn’t always just reading the words. You don’t escape the clutches of the worlds you learned to love just by closing the door, closing the cover. Narnia taught me that much. And the best thing about this book? It’s only the first leg of Nyra’s journey.
Interested in The Waters of Nyra? It can be purchased here.
Feel free to visit Kelly at her own site, while you’re at it!