SPFBO Review: Clearwater Dawn by Scott Fitzgerald Gray
Clearwater Dawn is a tightly-woven, almost claustrophobic mystery-adventure tale, focusing on the role of one pivotal minor player in major affairs. It features a lot of traditional tropes (a princess, a stable-boy, political intrigue, assassins) but is definitely a grown-up rather than YA story (in theme – I don’t want to imply it’s X- or even R-rated). Some of our readers appreciated the focus on one POV, and the nuanced worldbuilding. Others found the love story – among other elements – less believable. Character introspection often slows the pace down a bit, but after a rough start this rumbles along nicely and reaches a self-contained conclusion while leaving room for continuing adventures.
For me, this created the best atmosphere of any book in our SPFBO group, fleshing out what could have been a stereotypical fantasy world until I could feel the chill wind blowing across the fortress walls and smell the camp-fires. This could be because the author took time to slow down and let it sink in, which may not be to everyone’s taste. Similarly, we have time to get in the main character’s head as he wrestles with his loyalties, duty, and emotions. Again, this may not be for everyone (it certainly split our reviewing pool).
The weight that this subsequently gave the actions helped to excuse the sometimes unlikely events that followed. Chief complaints were that the main character healed too fast, fought too well, and overall was a little too favoured by the plot gods (especially in terms of, shall we say, having his cake and eating it). Again, fellow readers were divided over whether these made sense for the characters, or whether it was too much. For me, the non-fairy-tale ending brought it down squarely on the side of realism.
The love story is central to it, but the princess is no damsel in distress, and there is a murder mystery coupled to political intrigue to go along with it, all nicely intertwined. There are also a few good twists, especially towards the end. Larger events are only glimpsed or hinted at, and the whole thing takes place in about a week or so. This is not a sprawling epic with a cast of thousands, but there is certainly scope for further exploration of this world, its tensions, and characters. That said, those of us that like a good stand-alone are well-served here. Neither does it feature a magic system with clear rules and boundaries, which annoyed some readers. If you like a more numinous or mystical brand of magic, however, this might not bother you.
So, in the end, the book might come down taste as much as anything. I know you can say that about many books, but here is a well-drawn tale, from one POV, tightly focused and self-contained, with a nuanced romance and plot. If that’s something you have been looking for amongst all the endless epics, then why not give this a try?
Clearwater Dawn has been eliminated from the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off.