Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Review & Book Tour Stop: Watermark by Vanitha Sankaran

Watermark by Vanitha Sankaran
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Date Published: April 2010
Publisher: Avon
Source: I received an advance reading copy for review to participate in this TLC book tour.
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher's book description:
The daughter of a papermaker in 1320 France, Auda has an ability to read and write that come from a place of need. Silenced, she finds hope and opportunity in the intricacies of her father’s craft. But the powerful forces of the ruling parties in France form a nearly insurmountable obstacle.
In a time when new ideas were subject to heresy, Auda dares to defy the status quo. Born albino, believed to be cursed, and rendered mute before she’d ever spoken, her very survival is a testament to the strength of her spirit. As Auda grows into womanhood, she reclaims her heritage in a quest for love and a sense of self.

I was hooked by this book within the first couple of pages. The story begins with Auda's birth, during which her mother sacrifices herself so that her child might live. But Auda is unusual because she is albino, and the superstitions of the Middle Ages take their toll on her life from her very first breath. Superstition results in her being doubly set apart from the average medieval French person when the healer's apprentice cuts out her tongue to keep her from "speaking the Devil's lies"--because albinos were suspected as witches.

Throughout her life, Auda had to stay in the shadows, stay covered up, to avoid suspicion of being a witch. This becomes especially important as the inquisition begins to step up persecution of witches and the heretical sect called the "Good Men." She works with her father, a papermaker in a time when paper was just starting to be accepted as a cheaper substitute for widely-used parchment. Although she has worked out a sign language with her family, she has also been taught to read and write by her father, another unusual skill for a woman not of the aristocracy.

Besides the fascinating setting and intelligent female protagonist, there is also the interesting development of paper, which had significant implications for literary developments at the time. The cheap price of paper as compared to parchment gave less wealthy persons access to reading material and writing material. And Auda finds herself working as a scribe for the vicomtesse, who sets her to work transcribing some of the old documents in the palace (including old poems and songs). She finds herself inspired by it and by her growing romance with an artist, developing her own literary voice in the process. The result is a complex and appealing work of fiction that I very much enjoyed. The only thing that bothered me was that the book seemed to speed to the ending--I felt like the climax of the story and its aftermath could have been less rushed.

When I first started reading Watermark, it brought back memories of what it was like when I was reading Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth, another book set in medieval Europe (though set in England a couple of hundred years earlier than Watermark). If you liked Pillars of the Earth I think you would probably enjoy Watermark as well. This is a very nice work of medieval fiction and I am looking forward to reading future books by Ms. Sankaran.

Related Linkage:

Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, Medieval Reading Challenge, Twenty Ten Challenge, POC Reading Challenge


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