Contains spoilers for the Cradle series through Ghostwater.
Ghostwater was a two part read for me, and I still don’t fully know how I feel about it. As Cradle: Volume 5, it sits in the middle of nine published books out of a predicted twelve. It does a better job of setting up subsequent books than Skysworn did, its pacing was better, and the content for both Lindon and Yerin was more comprehensive. It was the drastic steps this story took, creating leaps of power and capacity for characters that made me pause. Ghostwater began what I see as a huge compromise in the Cradle series in order to reach the author’s intended endpoint by whatever means necessary. The necessity of his suspension of disbelief and heavy reliance on characters benefiting from coincidence starts in Ghostwater only to continue to progress in later books. As a result, I continuously found the story suffering at the rapid pace of advancement and my enjoyment certainly waned. There is a very clear checkpoint that Wight has in mind for this current arc, and Ghostwater is where he accelerates to that point.
When I first started reading it, Ghostwater almost felt like a “side quest” book. The main story is seemingly put on pause at the beginning as Lindon and Yerin accompany the Skysworn on a mission to Ghostwater, the pocket world of the famed Northstrider and namesake of the book. The world was damaged by the emergence of the Blood Phoenix, and a group is sent to retrieve whatever they can from the secrets and unimaginable knowledge hoarded there by the Monarch. The story begins with the feel of a filler book in a larger series, but instead becomes a necessary piece of progression within the arc, though everything happens to the characters and they in turn have very little autonomy.
There is great character development and growth in Ghostwater, particularly for Yerin, which has been hinted at and foreshadowed in the two previous books. It is a beautiful combination of her starting to let go of her mentor, trusting her own strength, and still being able to integrate her Blood Shadow without it overpowering and using her. There are some subtle but important hints at her realisation of a skewed perspective on the Sage of the Endless Sword, that perhaps he wasn’t the infallible, perfect man she had always seen him to be. It comes across in small things, like language around how he spoke or treated her, such as her memory of him being too lazy to cut firewood with an axe, so having Yerin cut it with his sword. It may be reading into the text too much, but it brings me hope for some powerful potential in Yerin’s character.
Ghostwater brings much more context to the Cradle series, and elevates the setup that Skysworn laid the foundation for, preparing the central arc in the series. The looming threat of the Dreadgods has been introduced by the Blood Phoenix, a potential precursor to the destruction Lindon saw in his vision. The journey to and within Ghostwater introduces more factions in greater detail, from more revelations about the Akura Clan, to the cults of the Dreadgods, and the first interactions between the protagonists and dragons. The events that surround Lindon in Ghostwater are the precursors to the next massive progression in his story, in the sense of what he must face as well as what he can do and what is done to him.
For all that Ghostwater does well in its story setup and character development, it still left me somewhat dissatisfied. While in Ghostwater, Lindon’s rapid advancement is too convenient and too easy. It all starts with Lindon and Yerin, who happen to be going to the island at the perfect time, and Lindon is lucky enough to barely survive until he is able to make use of the resources of Ghostwater, all with just enough time before the pocket world collapses. It’s all too convenient that the offerings of Ghostwater allow him to advance so easily, and it’s too coincidental for me to be satisfied with it. It could be argued through the context of the story, specifically regarding fate and fated futures, that it was necessary or fated to happen, rather than simply coincidence or luck. But I really don’t like those arguments, and it feels lazy to me as a reader to allow the protagonist to conveniently find exactly what he needs in a place he coincidentally finds himself in, and is then able to survive and gain power far more rapidly than he would ever have been able to otherwise. It feels as though the author reached this book, or point in the series, and knew that Lindon had to achieve a massive jump in power as a sacred artist before the next book began, so he figured out creative shortcuts to introduce to allow that. The problem is that it is a solution to a problem that can’t be solved any other way, and is solely within reach of the main character and no one else, nor is there similar mention of anything like that happening to anyone else in the world. It’s spectacular and coincidental, and he happens to be lucky enough to be the only one to benefit from it.
Almost everything that happens in Ghostwater is outside the control of the characters. They are only at the island and therefore able to reach Ghostwater in the first place through happenstance. Then Lindon is barely able to stumble his way through the pocket world, happening to find the resources to become more powerful far more quickly than he ever should have been able to. Furthermore, only then after becoming more powerful can he get lucky enough (again) to escape. Everything is a fortunate coincidence, with the characters only reacting, rather than having the agency to make their own decisions to potentially affect any outcome. They literally have the option of get lucky or die, and every time they seem to get lucky.
Will Wight commits an egregious sin of relying on coincidence to save the main characters, but he covers it much better than most using clever banter and exciting action to supplement it. While it was necessary for the story, it was a dedicated decision made by the author, and as a result I felt it weakened the story overall. It feels lazy and unsatisfying to have everything come back to coincidence. Lindon is on his path because of Suriel’s actions in Unsouled. Those actions pushed him to a new Fate, but in turn caused Makiel to accelerate the events taking place on Cradle (Skysworn). Lindon was supposed to have thirty years to advance as a sacred artist to reach a point where he would potentially be able to save his home from destruction. Even in thirty years, it was a fast timetable, but not unrealistic within the rules of Cradle for him to reach Underlord or greater in that time if he fully dedicated himself. It would have been a possible, if unlikely, fate for Lindon. With the accelerated timetable of Cradle, with the Dreadgods stirring, Lindon shouldn’t be able to grasp the power needed to resist them, the gulf is too great to cross in such a short amount of time. Instead, he continues to find convenient places and means where he can shortcut and advance far more rapidly than he should.
With the Blood Phoenix rising early, Lindon likely would not have joined the Skysworn. Without the Skysworn, Lindon and Yerin wouldn’t have been sent to Ghostwater, which wouldn’t have been necessary without the Dreadgods stirring. Without the collapse of Ghostwater accelerating and the events that drew others to it, Lindon wouldn’t have been able to make use of the resources of the pocket world and rapidly advance. And without the imminent threat of the Dreadgods rising suddenly and “early,” the Uncrowned King Tournament (Underlord, Cradle: Volume 6) wouldn’t have such high stakes to push the Akura Clan to open up the Night Wheel Valley, thus pushing Lindon to be able to reach Underlord so quickly. Overall, a series of convenient circumstances that just happen to benefit the main character, without him having much choice or influence, instead just being able to acquire much more power than he should in a short amount of time.
The real shame is I can see so much more potential for these books and the story. It could have been written just as well, or even better, to give a much more satisfying progression of events as well as character development without compromising itself.
Ghostwater is written by Will Wight, and is published by Hidden Gnome Publishing.
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