Review: 'Flood Waters Rising', by E. M. A. Hirst
Pop Seagull Publishing/CreateSpace,
September 2011. Illustrated by Notorious
Paperback $17.00 (483 pages), e-book $4.99
“… this action-packed space opera will take you to an exotic new world, filled with bold characters and species and surprises at every turn.” (back cover blurb)
This world is certainly exotic. Its intelligent species are the Geedar, well described (and depicted on the cover by ‘Notorious’; Robin McLean) as a doglike people (pp. 11-12):
Sithon, in spite of all the hardships he had suffered as a child, had grown into a fine specimen of an adolescent Geedar. Long of torso and strong in the legs, his arms reached down past his knees, a trait which allowed him to run on all fours or, more usually, on his digitigrade hind legs. His thin, muscular arms ended in hands with thick, black paw pads on the undersides of his fingers, and short, dark claws. […] He had tall, pointed ears, a long snout with a square black nose at the end which stayed wet and shiny unless he was too sick or dry, and blue-grey eyes like his mother’s. The fur covering Sithon’s body was a light grey, like the rest of his family.
Other descriptions are “He stood about six feet tall” and “He swung his tail back and forth …” (p. 10)
Hirst (named Elizabeth Hirst on the book’s spine) constantly refers to the Geedar in canine terms: their families are males, bitches, and puppies; their nations are packs; their defeated enemies are butchered for their meat. There are frequent references to the characters’ fur, muzzles with vicious fangs, scenting, flicking ears, raised or wagging tails, thick manes (shown on the cover as Sithon’s and Zahenna’s long hair) and similar doglike attributes; in addition to Notorious’ full-page artwork. The reader never forgets that these are anthropomorphized animals and not humans.
Sithon Flood and his pack are Novans, members of a new nation that fled from larger and more aggressive Metriska to the planet Rakaria. When Nova was founded two generations earlier, it was divided politically between two clans. The Elders wanted to maintain the negotiated truce that was the condition for being allowed to leave Metriska in peace. The Floods, led by Toraus Flood, argued that Metriska only let them leave because its government was then too weak to stop them, and that they should savagely attack before rapidly-militarizing Metriska was ready to conquer them back. Civil war ensued; the Floods, led by Toraus, burned down whole cities before they lost.
The victorious Elders, renaming Nova as the Royal Rakarian Empire, forced the surviving Floods into the harsh Northlands and set an invisible psychic shield around them. The Floods grew increasingly desperate in their Northlands prison as food diminished, and they weakened from the lack of a vitamin necessary to all Geedar. Now, fifty years later, the ancient Toraus dies and the shield dissipates, allowing the remaining Floods to venture back into the world.
To Toraus’ grandson Sithon, born after their imprisonment, this is a long-awaited freedom. Before Sithon has a chance to enjoy it, his grandmother (mother?) is killed, and he learns that he is a key part of the Empire’s longstanding plot – to conquer the rest of their world!
“I’m your father, Sithon.” That’s not a real quote, but it comes close. From the back-cover blurb:
For Sithon Flood, trouble is literally flowing through his veins…
Heir to a blood condition that can help heal the sick and even raise the dead, Sithon finds himself trapped in a web of lies and manipulation at the hands of his stepfather, a tyrant who desires an undead army.
It is exotic, but also confusing. The synopsis above is pieced together from several apparently-clear but contradictory statements (and I might have gotten some of it wrong). The distinction between Nova and Rakaria is not clarified until page 125, and it still leaves questions. “In the aftermath of the failed colony at Nova, seeking a glorious new life for their faithful elite, the clan leaders led the settlers to the barren planet Rakaria, carving out an empire …” How did they get from Nova to Rakaria? By spaceship? Teleportation? Space travel is otherwise unmentioned.1
Toraus’ fearmongering to the Novans about the pursuing Metriskan armies presumably happens before the exodus to Rakaria, but this is a guess. And what happens to the Metriskans? They quickly disappear. If the Metriskan armies are prepared to follow the exiles to Rakaria, again how? By spaceship? If they do not follow, what new menace does Toraus use in his campaign to create fear among the Novans?
Hirst’s writing ranges from pedestrian to clunky, especially in her dialogue (p. 29):
‘Now, sit,’ said Dacc. Vaedra did so, scowling. The tip of Dacc’s spear followed her throat as she went. The taller Geedar, now free of his burden, approached Sithon.
‘I will hurt her. Unless… you tell me some basic information about how you scum have managed to survive out here for so long. The Royal Rakarian Empire wanted you to suffer and die in the Northlands, with the lack of vitamin M in the soil. Indeed, all scientific fact would dictate that your upper vilobes should have worn out long before now. Where have you been getting your food?’
If readers do not mind inconsistencies such as these, then Flood Waters Rising is a fast-paced but predictable sci-fi melodrama about the sinister “Smart Blood” plan to conquer the whole planet; of how young Sithon Flood reacts when he learns that he is important for the plan’s implementation; how he meets the rebel underground that opposes it; and how he comes at last to choose which to support.
1 Many “ships” fly through the air, notably the villain’s “Death’s End” filled with superscientific torture devices, but none have apparent deep-space capabilities.