The Waters Between: A Novel of the Dawn Land
The Waters Between is Joseph Bruchac’s third novel in the Dawn Land trilogy. Ten thousand years ago, the Abenaki Indians inhabited what we now know as the states of New York and Vermont. The novel is set in the springtime as the Abenaki are preparing their families for a move to summer lodgings on the shores of Petonbowk, or Waters Between. This is the lake we know as Lake Champlain.
It is while visiting Petonbowk from his village that deepseer (or shaman) Young Hunter makes a frightening discovery. A huge snake-like sea monster is preying on mammals venturing to the lakeshore. As Young Hunter begins to sound the alarm among the villages, he senses another menace is plaguing his homeland. This time the monster is another Abenaki.
Watches Darkness, the albino outcast deepseer bent on destruction, has a twisted, evil heart and “is very hungry for the spirits of all who are deepseers.” Bruchac does not clarify why Watches Darkness is an outcast, though he relates the deepseer’s evil to an abusive and tortured childhood.
In a classic battle between good and evil, Young Hunter finds he must stretch his powers and rely on the help of others to overcome this dual, converging menace. Anyone interested in ancient Native American lore and spirituality will find this novel fascinating. Bruchac is an accomplished and skillful storyteller and he knows his subject well. Throughout The Waters Between Bruchac incorporates many Abenaki folktales, most of which blend well into the story line.
Through Bruchac’s vivid descriptions the readers senses the author’s deep love for the land and its wildlife as well as for the Abenaki culture. As Bruchac makes clear in this novel, the Abenaki believe all living creatures are connected. Deepseers are able to communicate with other creatures and are at times able to “borrow” those creatures’ attributes. One deepseer growls and screams like a bear, another slithers like a snake. Deepseers are born with mystical powers which must be developed. These powers include the ability to “see” beyond the restrictions of the human eye, to travel with the mind, to read and influence another’s thoughts.
At the same time that it is a successful historical and cultural novel, readers should be warned that The Waters Between is also a novel of horror, suspense and violence. The Petonbowk monster pursues his victims relentlessly and displays a fierce vindictiveness when reacting to the innocents who cross his path. More frightening still is the rage-filled Watches Darkness, who takes great delight in psychologically stalking his victims before torturing and killing them. In this aspect, The Waters Between is not the typical historical fiction novel of ancient peoples.