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“What is fair to one is not fair to another. Fairness is a sentiment that will sprout bitterness in your heart,” Darthan. –Across the Dark Waters
Across the Dark Water
Riders of the Realm #1
by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez
Twelve-year-old Rahkki is a stable groom for the Riders in the Sandwen army, who must battle deadly spit dragons and hordes of warring giants. The Sandwens believe they have tamed all the wild pegasi in the lush jungles of the Realm and turned them into flying warhorses. But when a herd of wild steeds flies over their village, Rahkki and his clan mates are stunned.
Meanwhile, a small herd of pegasi has journeyed across a treacherous ocean to settle in a new and free land. Led by Echofrost and Hazelwind, the Storm Herd steeds are unaware of the Sandwen clan. But when the unthinkable happens, Echofrost and the rest of Storm Herd will have to come to trust the Sandwens, or both may not survive.
Pegasi, giants, fire-breathing lizards, and landwalkers come together in an exciting story full of suspense. Echofrost desires to be free and she has vowed that no pegasi will be held captive. When her friend Shysong is captured, Echofrost sacrifices her freedom in the hope that she will be able to help Shysong escape. But escaping the Landwalkers is more difficult than Echofrost could have imagined. She fights every Landwalker who comes near her. When a young boy tries to help Echofrost, Echofrost begins to understand that some Landwalkers can be trusted.
Across the Dark Waters uses Echofrost’s voice to highlight the pegasi’s plight and their desire for freedom, while Rahkki’s voice brings the landwalker’s complicated political system to life. The beginning of the story may confuse readers because of the many names and the detailed descriptions that are necessary to build the realm’s world. However, it does not take long until both Echofrost and Shysong are captured and the non-stop action begins. Readers will empathize with Echofrost as she tries to escape captivity, and they will also root for Rahkki as he fights to help the wild pegasi.
Although the publisher recommends Across the Dark Waters for readers as young as eight, younger readers may have a difficult time with the complex story that contains many references to the past in both the pegasi and the landwalker’s lands. The advanced vocabulary and sentence structure may also be difficult for younger readers. In her fight for freedom, Echofrost is treated brutally and, although the descriptions are not gory, there is blood and violence that may upset sensitive readers.
As the first installment of the Riders of the Realm series, Across the Dark Waters will be impossible for readers to put down. With battles, political intrigue, plot twist, and an unlikely friendship, Across the Dark Waters is a beautifully written, complex story that is engaging and exciting. The surprising conclusion will leave readers reaching for the next book in the series, Through the Untamed Sky. Readers who love horse stories will also want to read The Rose Legacy by Jessica Day George.
- When looking at the princess, someone asks Rahkki, “You like what you see?” Rahkki is told to “Keep away from the princess, yeah?”
- When Rahkki’s brother Brauk is injured, Rahkki kisses his hand. His brother says, “If you’re going to practice kissing, could you use your own hand?”
- Only women can inherit the throne. Queen Reyella only had sons. “Eight years ago, a bloodborn princess from the Second Clan named Lilliam Whitehall had pounced on Reyella’s weakness. She assassinated the boys’ mother and took her throne, becoming the Fifth’s new monarch.”
- Rahkki thinks back to when the queen killed his mother. Rahkki “winced at a flash of memory—Queen Lilliam’s cold hand around his throat. He’d been four years old when she’s snuck into Fort Prowl, killed his mother, and then gone after him. . . But then another memory struck him: his mother’s round belly. She’d been pregnant too when Lilliam had assassinated her.”
- The Storm Herd pegasi leave their land because of a battle between “two immortal pegasus stallions: Star the Healer and Nightwing the Destroyer.” Star and Nightwing use their supernatural power to try to destroy each other. “The earth shook and the land below her hooves fractured, creating fissures in the soil that spread like cracked ice.”
- Later Echofrost thinks about “Nightwing’s treacheries: burning Morningleaf’s feathers with his silver starfire, turning hundreds of pegasi to ashes, stealing newborns from their dams, and murdering the five over-stallions of Anok.”
- While flying over a human establishment, the Landwalkers try to shoot down the pegasi. “One adult retreated into his den and then returned carrying a bowed contraption. Soon he was shooting barbed sticks at the pegasi. One struck Shysong in the wing. . .and blood dripped from the wound.”
- The Landwalkers capture Shysong. “Several lashings were looped around Shysong’s neck and legs. The mare bucked and kicked, but the Landwalkers steered their mounts out of her reach, keeping an equidistant circle around her body.” Echofrost tries to help her friend. “She rammed the closest enemy pegasus. . . The golden steed faltered, and her rider lost her balance, almost falling off.” The mare “kicked Echofrost in the flank and sent her spiraling toward land.” The scene is described over three pages.
- After Shysong is captured, Echofrost allows the Landwalkers to catch her. The Landwalkers throw ropes at the Storm Herd. “One fell around Echofrost’s neck and then tightened around her throat. She reared back, and it clamped tighter, like the constricting grip of a snake. She opened her mouth to scream, but the noise came out a strangled gasp.” When the Landwalkers catch Echofrost, they cut her wings so she cannot escape.
- Echofrost thinks back to the past. Another herd had captured her and “she’d been tortured and kicked. Yearlings had made a sport of yanking out her mane and tail hairs by the roots. She’d eventually been released.”
- The Landwalkers take Echofrost captive. The Landwalkers “tossed ropes that tangled around her neck and hooves. They each held tight, and she couldn’t stop herself from struggling. The Landwalkers shouted to one another in excited voices and then gave a mighty tug, yanking her off her hooves. She hit the ground. . .They bound her wings and legs.”
- While walking, someone threw a coconut at Rahkki. He was hit “in the back of the head and he flew forward, striking the ground so hard it knocked the breath out of him.”
- In order to keep Echofrost captive, the Landwalkers need to cut her wings. Brauk “produced a stick similar to Harak’s and followed her, brandishing it at her throat. She lunged, jaws wide, and Harak leaped to help Brauk. They struck her chest, driving her deeper into the corner until her flanks brushed up against wood.” In order to put a halter on Echofrost, Brauk “clubbed her over the head so hard that her vision flickered. . . With a sharp tug, they yanked her off her hooves and she slammed onto the hard floor. Her chest [was] heaving as she absorbed the pain.” The scene is described over three pages.
- Angry at Brauk, Echofrost tried to strike him, but Brauk “slammed his club down on her forehead, making her stagger into the barn wall. Her vision blackened, and she gasped for breath.”
- While trying to tame Echofrost, Brauk “wacked her left shoulder, stinging the muscles there. . . . Echofrost dripped her head and limped along behind him, her shoulders stinging where he’d hit her.”
- When Echofrost’s friends try to free her, the Landwalkers shoot arrows at the wild pagasi. One pegasus is slightly injured.
- A giant grabs Echofrost. The giant “tightened his grip around her neck. Her vision darkened and her body went limp. . . The Gorlander held Sula [Echofrost] by her throat with both hands, trying to suffocate her so he could drag her away. Her tongue lolled form her mouth, and her eyes popped wide.” Rahkki grabs a dagger and “drove it toward the giant’s brain.” The giant “snatched Rahkki’s arm, and tossed him into the creek before the blade could find its mark.”
- Echofrost tries to free herself from the giant’s grasp by twisting and kicking. “Her hooves sliced through the Gorlander’s goat-hide vest, raking red streaks across his moon-pale skin.” Brauk tries to help his brother and Echofrost. “Brauk parried in and out, slicking at the giant in sections from head to foot until the beast was streaked in blood.” When Echofrost gets free, she uses “her flightless wings to propel and balance herself, she reared and clubbed the giant with her front hooves. Meanwhile Brauk hacked at the Gorlander like he was chopping down a tree.” The scene is described over seven pages.
- The giants attack the Landwalkers. “The giants lifted heavy shields and mowed down the front line of Sandwen soldiers, crushing them with their spears. The horde roared in unison and advanced over the bones of the dead. . . One [elephant] had a Sandwen warrior hanging off his tusk. The elephant tossed him off, and a giant speared the man straight through.” Rahkki takes the wild pegasi to his uncle’s farm.
- While at the farm, a giant attempts to grab Rahkki. “The giant followed him, but as Rahkki predicted, he was too large to change course. His eyes widened, and then he slammed into the trunk. The tree cracked and splintered.” Rahkki’s uncle helps fight the giants. Rahkki stabs one “through her naked foot. She threw back her head and howled.” The giant grabs Rahkki and “shook him so hard his teeth rattled. . . The female giant tugged Rahkki’s arms hard enough to make him scream.” The giant ties Rahkki up and throws him into her sack.
- Echofrost tries to help free Rahkki. A giant swings a weapon and “knocked her into the side of the barn. . . He swung at her again and knocked her into the side of the barn. With her head ringing, the giant stomped toward her—his bludgeon lifted.” The Storm Herd appear and help defeat the giant. The fight takes place over eight pages.
- After Rahkki tries to free the wild pegasi, two guards beat him. “A guard lifted his club, his blue eyes flashing, and Rahkki threw his arms up to protect his face and head. He didn’t see the blow, but he felt it. Once. Twice. An earsplitting scream. That was him. . . Then one more blow. And darkness.
- Someone teases Rahkki. One of his friends “coiled back her fist and punched him square across the jaw, knocking him off the bench.”
- While Echofrost was being auctioned off, Harak uses his whip to bully Echofrost. Angry, Echofrost strikes out. “Echofrost whirled around and kicked out with both hind legs. She heard a sharp crack when her hooves connected with flesh. A body flew across the sand and struck the fence.” Echofrost accidently injures Brauk instead of Harak. Brauk is seriously injured.
- After hurting Brauk, Echofrost thinks back to her brother’s death. “The dire wolves had attacked them. Their leader, a white she-wolf, had snatched Bumblewind and thrown him into a tree, cracking his head against it.”
- During a contest, young men try to ride Echofrost. Every time someone gets on his back, Echofrost bucks them off. No one is injured. The scene is described over six pages.
- While trying to find their herd, giants try to capture Echofrost and Shysong. Fire lizards, called burners, try to force the pegasi to the ground. “The burners caught up to Echofrost and attacked, shooting flaming tendrils at her and Shysong. There were hundreds of them moving as one creature, like a flock of sparrows. She twisted away when a few of her feathers caught fire. . . Shysong flew in to help. They kicked at the lizards, knocking some out of the sky.” The pegasi are able to escape.
Drugs and Alcohol
- In order to treat Shysong’s injury, the clan’s animal doctor gave her a dose of “strong medicine.”
- The queen’s table is laden with food and also has rice wine on it.
- While at a pegasi auction, Rahkki notices that one of the pegasi has been drugged.
- The characters occasionally use “bloody rain” as an exclamation. For example, when Rahkki asked a guard to leave, the guard askes him, “Bloody rain, what yuh doin’ ‘ere so early?”
- When someone shoots a pegasus, the queen calls them responsible idiots.
- “By Granak” is used as an exclamation several times. For example, after the fight with the giant, Rahkki’s brother says, “By Granak, Brother. If you cry, I’ll break your nose.”
- Queen Lilliam believes in omens. Before she will send her warriors out to battle the giants, the queen would consult with “their guardian mascot—Granak, the Father of Dragons. The queen would offer the gigantic lizard a fattened sow. If he ate it, they’d fight. If he didn’t, Lilliam would consider that a terrible omen. She’d keep the warriors home.”
- Queen Lilliam won’t attack the giants because “her Borla had a bad dream, a vision. He said he saw the giant hordes on the move with over a hundred captured Kihlari steeds. . .So even though Granak ate the sow, the bad dream foretells defeat. She won’t attack until there’s a better omen.”
- Nightwing “had woken from a four-hundred-year hibernation. . . He’d come to kill his rival, a young black stallion named Star.”
- When Echofrost hurts a rider, a rumor begins. People think Echofrost killed the rider. “A Kihlara steed that killed a Rider was a bad omen—bad luck.”
- After a pegasus dies, they go to “the golden meadow.”
- In the morning the tame pegasi “greet the sun. . . All the pegasi faced east” and nickered toward the sun.
- When Echofrost is upset, she thinks, “Ancestors, help me.” Later when Echofrost is trying to kick her way out of the stall, she says, “By the Ancestors. That door is as hard as stone.”
- Echofrost and Shysong are being put up for sale. To encourage Shysong, Echofrost says, “the Ancestors are with us.”
- The Landwalkers believe that “Sunchaser was the moon spirit, and he was always brooding because he lived in the dark.”
- When the Landwalkers see the wild pegasi, someone says, “Maybe they’re a gift from the wind spirits, or maybe they rose out of the foam in the sea, or maybe they’re fallen stars.”
- Echofrost takes flight with Rahkki on her back. Intending to escape, Echofrost flies quickly away from the settlement. Rahkki “threw up a silent prayer to the Seven Sisters.”