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Fathom by Cherie Priest
Review by Harriet Klausner
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765318404
Date: 25 November 2008 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Before man walked the earth, the Older Gods held domain over the world and all it contained. Now they are either dead or in hiding because man has since dominated the orb.

In Tallahassee, Florida, Nia receives a message from her Aunt Marjorie to come and visit her and her cousin Bernice on their semi private barrier rock, Anna Maria Island. Nia ignores her mom's warnings about Bernice being dangerously out of control and accepts the invitation. Nia quickly realizes how right her mom is as she witnesses her cousin kill her stepfather claiming he sexually abused her. Realizing she is next, Nia jumps into the water to escape.

The cousins meet the ancient water witch Arahab who rejects Nia leaving her to die, but the intrepid human survives because one of the Old Ones encases her in stone and hides that inside a dark cubbyhole on her aunt's estate. Arahab adopts Bernice seeing a similar dark soul as the perfect companion for her pirate Gaspar who she enslaved a century ago. Neither Bernice nor Gaspar is human any longer and thanks to their hostess--immortal. She wants her two children to pick up an artifact from a small curio shop. Once Arahab possesses it, it will enable her to wake up her Father the Leviathan. He is sleeping in a place the witch cannot enter. If he wakes up, the earth is too small to contain him and will be destroyed; this means the Old Gods will return to rule.

Nia comes out of the stone sort of like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. She is much stronger, faster and her senses much greater with a wider range; the Old One Mossfeaster has transformed her into a weapon to prevent Leviathan from awakening. He mentors Nia towards fulfilling her destiny starting with obtaining the artifact while Bernice tries to stop her former cousin and tricking her enemy Arahab into thinking she is cooperating.

Fathom combines elements of urban fantasy and horror into an exciting thriller that is nothing similar to Cherie Priest's Eden Moore saga. Instead this is more a classic good vs. evil thriller while raising an intriguing question as to whether the Gods can be judged in human terms; for instance can cattle assume humans are evil?

The Florida landscape described by Ms. Priest seems genuine even with water witches, Old ones, and the metamorphosed cousins walking and swimming the land and sea. With a strong sense of place and deeply developed characters, there is plenty of action from the onset when Bernice chases after a fleeing Nia that leaves readers believing they are on a runaway train.

Still it is the cast who make the tale. Arahab who is restricted to the sea has plenty of waterways as the state is a peninsular with rivers reaching the adjoining ocean and sea. Bernice is an interesting antagonist who chose an evil path even though that at times means swimming upstream against the moral tide; her attitude led to her "adoption" by Arahab as an expendable tool to obtain the artifact. Nia is her polar opposite who goes with the flow as does her teacher compared with his counterpart Arahab. All said and done Bernice is the most fascinating player as the audience will wonder about her motives especially as she plots her freedom and makes plans for the artifact. Surprisingly she is the one individual the readers get to know best. Ms. Priest is at her best with this Florida horror tale.

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