The City in the Lake
by Rachel Neumeier (2008, Alfred A. Knopf, 294 pp).
There is a city on the shores of a lake, where live a king and his beloved son, the heart of the country. Within the waters of the lake lies another city, much more than a reflection of what is real. And Neill, the bastard, the king's other, older, son, stops one evening on the bridge, to watch for its appearance...to see if the carved stone tigers come alive in the water.
In a village far from the city, Timou has grown up in peace, learning to be a mage from her distant but loving father. But her peace is shattered when her father disappears, echoing the mysterious disappearance of the king's own son and the desolation that has befallen the kingdom. She leaves her home to find answers, journying through the Forest, into the city, and past its walls into the city in the lake. And the answers she finds, that bind her to Neill and to the fate of the kingdom, are a maze of magic and danger spun by an ancient sorceress--"an echo in a old story. A name in a history older than the Kingdom."
But another young man, who loves Timou, has followed her into the enchanted forest. There he meets a power strong enough to defeat the ancient evil that has awoken, but it is a power that might claim him forever...
This is a lovely story, beautifully told. It is a slow read, in the best sense of the term, because to rush through it would be to waste its wealth of detail. Fans of Patricia McKillip, in particular, will love it; the cadence of the prose, and the sense of history, mystery, old magic, and things seen at the edge of sight that characterize McKillip are also to be found here.
As well as all that, one of the things that I personally really liked about the book is that the main characters are all people I would enjoy knowing in real life. This could be a sign of my own mental weakness, but I so much prefer to read about people I can care deeply about. So in a nutshell, here you have lovely world-making, people I like, and a satisfying plot.
The City in the Lake has been nominated for the Cybils Awards in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category. My co-panelist Nettle also reviewed this book today (I just read it, wanting to wait until after I wrote my own). And here are a few more reviews, at The Well Read Child, at Book Obsession, and at Elizabeth Bunce's blog