A tender-hearted prince finds his power in this earnest, seafaring romance.
Prince Tal hasn't had a lot of chances to get out of the palace. As the second youngest of five, he isn't going to be the king one day or lead the army or even marry strategically. There's only one thing his family expects of him: to keep his magic hidden. Tal burns with the same supernatural fire that his grandfather wielded in the name of destruction and tyranny. If people knew Tal was the heir to his magic, they would call for his head on a platter.
So when Tal sets off on his coming-of-age tour, it's with some reservations. What if the outside world proves to be too much for him, and he isn't able to hide his magic?
His fears are realized when his crew rescues a boy chained to a sinking ship. Tal has never met anyone like Athlen before — beautiful, mysterious, and reticent about how he ended up in chains. When Tal accidentally reveals his magic and Athlen jumps overboard, presumably into a watery grave, he feels responsible.
But worse tribulations are yet to come: Tal is kidnapped by pirates, intent on discovering if the prince whom the royal family has been hiding away has inherited his grandfather's magic — and how much that family will pay to get him back. It seems like it may be the end for Tal — unless of course a certain beautiful, mysterious boy reappears to save him — and in doing so, reveals a secret magic of his own.
I have to agree with the immortal words of the kid from “The Princess Bride:” "Murdered by pirates is good!" The opening chapters of “In Deeper Waters” linger long on the set-up and are a bit of a tangled web of meetings and re-meetings and flirtations, but the story starts to shine once its gentle prince is swept away on a gritty pirate adventure. Tal is infinitely more interesting when he is out from under his family's wing and must make decisions for himself that have life and death consequences. But while the pirate adventure is where things really take off, it must be said that, first and foremost, “In Deeper Waters” is most certainly "a kissing book."
Political plots, kidnapping, and forbidden magic are well-trod staples of YA fantasy, but the sweet relationship that forms between Tal and Athlen is what makes “In Deeper Waters” stand out. They stumble their way endearingly through their feelings, sharing all the secrets that they have worked so hard to keep. Thankfully, Tal and Athlen's world is one that accepts their queerness without prejudice, making this story a safe space for readers who identify with them.
I find it fascinating that there seems to be a sub-genre emerging that can best be described as Queer Teenagers at Sea and Probably Also Pirates and Mermaids, and I for one am definitely here for it. The sea makes for such a lovely underlying metaphor for the tumult of burgeoning love and sexual awakening, and mermaids are, after all, one of the classic figures of romantic longing. Fans of last year's “The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea” would no doubt find some similar things to love about “In Deeper Waters.”
Really, these books are harkening back to one of literature's classic tropes, the high seas adventure, but looking at it through a queer, teenaged lens. I wouldn't say that “In Deeper Waters” is subverting the genre, but it is definitely revelling in it, offering up a frothy confection of sea foam, young love, and derring-do.
Caitlyn Paxson is a writer and performer. She is a regular reviewer for NPR Books and Quill & Quire.
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