4 out of 4 stars
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Stillwaters by Yvonne Anderson is the first in a series about the lives of J. Freeman and has a sci-fi feel to it with elements of fantasy. It is set on a planet similar to Earth.
11-year old Jemma Freeman has all that she needs in the form of her twin brother Jeriah and a bottle of whisky. Her mom is dead, her gran senile, her Pa pretends she doesn’t exist, and as for her older brother, let’s just say that she would kill him if she had the chance. She lives on Freemansland which is an island on Umban where her father hunts dragons, and she loves the warmth and freedom there. One day she is rescued by some people from the City Centre on the mainland after an unfortunate family accident. Well, she would call it captured, and they would call her feral. She and Jeriah are now forced to live with an aunt and attend school to learn the ways of the City. All Jemma wants to do is escape the confines of the strange rules and traditions and go back to the swamps and trees she was happy to live in. As the years go by and Jemma realises she is growing accustomed to the changes she understands that she has shed her old life and begun a new one. She joins the military and quickly rises through the ranks, but refuses to get close to anyone as she harbours not one, but two life-changing secrets. What Jemma doesn’t realise is that a third life awaits and that she might just be able to open herself up and let someone else in. Is this a good idea or will Jemma be falling into a trap that is so deep that she will be too scared to fight her way out of?
Stillwaters was not what I expected at all, but in a good way. The blurb speaks of author J.S. Freeman telling the reader where it all began, which was confusing until I realised that was the main character in the story who had written this as an autobiographical memoir. Jemma is quite a piece of work, and the author does a great job in connecting the reader to her changing moods and mindsets and allows you to understand her anguish from the beginning to her reasonings later on. I really felt Jemma’s connection and her distress with the possibility of leaving her brother and I’m sure a certain character plays an important part of her life later on. Without giving away too much, I enjoyed how the author planted the seed of doubt about Jemma’s possible love interest and the uneasy feeling it leaves you with. Since it was classed as a sci-fi I thought that the lives referred to were rebirths, but they are more like life decisions and directions. The elements of religion were surprising but played an important role in the story, and the romance added to the direction their lives were taking. There are also a number of actions scenes as her military training places her in the thick of politically and religiously motivated attacks.
The author does a fantastic job with descriptions and world-building, and the map and diagram included at the beginning of the book help to clarify imagery. I was drawn to the colours, temperatures and textures described, and some things were parallel with those found on Earth which made it easy to imagine. I enjoyed how, during these lives, Jemma’s moral compass was tested and what she believed was right might now be wrong.
The editing of the book was spot on with no unnecessary errors and an easy flow to the reading. The only things that jarred me were Jeriah’s name being shortened to Riah unexpectedly, as I had to go back to see who was being referred to, and the multitude of new things on the planet that had unfamiliar names, as this became a little overwhelming sometimes.
I really enjoyed this book and am keen to see what happens next. It’s not your typical sci-fi so don’t expect aliens or UFOs. Even with the unfamiliar terms I rate Stillwaters 4 out of 4 stars and recommend it to anyone who enjoys a bit of romance mixed in with action, family drama and life in another world. Just as a precaution, there is swearing (albeit in words not spoken in English, but you can still get the gist) and a scene of sexual abuse.
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