Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Book Review: Many Waters

It's difficult to say if this is the fourth book in Madeleine L'Engle's series that began with A Wrinkle In Time. Meg and Charles Wallace Murry are only mentioned in passing, but play no relevant roles in Many Waters. Instead, the twins, Sandy and Dennys, are the heroes.

In search of Dutch cocoa, the twins venture into their parents' lab which is just off the kitchen. Inside, besides beef stew bubbling over a Bunsen burner, they find their dad's "not-quite-ordinary-looking computer." (Note: this book was published in 1986. It was the dawn of the personal computer.) The keyboard has a lot of Greek symbols over it. Using the English standard keys, Dennys types in "Take me somewhere warm." Sandy adds "And sparsely populated."

The boys get their wish--in spades. Turns out their father, an astrophysicist, has been playing around with tesseracts, the places where space and time intersect and bend. Sandy and Dennys find themselves somewhere warm and sparsely populated: in the middle of a desert, alone.

They are rescued by Japheth, his minature mammoth, and a couple of unicorns who "are and then they are not." The boys suffer heatstroke and are taken care of by Japheth's family, including his father, Noah, and his brothers, Shem and Ham. Eventually, the boys realize where they are and, most importantly, when they are.

But unicorns, Biblical characters, and mini-mammoths are not enough. There are also seraphim and nephilim. It's not explicitly stated that these are angels, but there are references to "talking with El" and choosing to be on Earth versus forced to remain on Earth. The twelve seraphim and the twelve nephilim inhabit ordinary animals--pelicans, scarabs, roaches, rats, crocodiles--when not in their true, winged form. Both groups are convinced that it was not an accident that the twins ended up in this time and place. Neither group--nor the twins--knows why.

There is a struggle between the seraphim and the nephilim over the humans. And the names of Sandy and Dennys do not appear in the Bible. The twins are also moving towards adulthood and find themselves falling in love with one of Noah's daughters, who is also not mentioned by name. Does she survive the coming Flood? Do they?

And what does each twin learn about himself? For most of their lives, they've been the "normal" ones in their family. Here they are not. And they begin to discover that maybe they've got special gifts as well.

I found I was more intrigued by this book than by the Wrinkle in Time trilogy, although I figured out where they were several chapters before the twins did. I know of seraphim, but I've never heard of nephilim--I'll have to go look them up. Mrs. L'Engle does a nice job of mixing in the Bible story of the Flood and perhaps that will drive some readers into reading the story for themselves.

On the March Hare scale: 3.5 out of 4 Golden Bookmarks