Warning: this post contains spoilers for Will Wight’s Ghostwater, as well as the preceding novels in the Cradle series.
Of all seven Cradle books that have been released so far, Ghostwater was my favorite. This novel delivered on all of the promise that I perceived when I read the first book. It has the most robust character development of the series so far, digs into the technical details of the magic system, instead of just building out to the next level, and it gives insight into some fascinating aspects of the world and the story that have only been alluded to before. Perhaps most strikingly, it is drastically more imaginative than other books in the series, which is a testament more to the level of imagination involved here, than it is an insult to the imaginative level of the other books.
This book starts off as a kind of get richer and more powerful plot much like the others, but then it takes a sharp turn into the realm of an adventure story. Plus, the whole thing takes place in a giant laboratory, which probably biased me towards it a bit. I have a thing for laboratories. This one, though, happened to be underwater, deserted, controversial, and had been created by a being called a Monarch, who in this series have powers like those of a god.
I mentioned that it builds out the magic system in greater technical depth, and that is certainly true. Part of doing that helps illuminate that long-running sub-plot we’ve mentioned a couple times that involves beings and powers on a celestial, rather than worldly, scale. Again, we’re going to talk more about that sub-plot, and what it does for the story, when we get to the book seven review, but this is the book where the groundwork was laid for us as readers to really begin to understand what was happening in those few scenes devoted to the sub-plot.
As an adventure story, Ghostwater feels much more organic than some of the other novels in the series. It grows, evolves, and adapts, without the reader necessarily being able to know precisely what will come next, which was really the major flaw in Blackflame. This is a story about a competent character choosing an adventure that challenges him, while also making him more competent in the process. That element of choice is a big part of what made this particular novel stand out from the others; in most of the other Cradle books, Lindon is sort of bouncing from crisis to crisis, being prompted and directed by external forces much larger than he is. In this book, he gains a larger measure of agency.
Did I mention that the laboratory was underwater, and that there are magic fish, dragon-people, and flaming, sentient turtles? If that’s not enough, there’s also a sarcastic mind-spirit that’s sort of like a computer augmentation for the human brain.
I’d like to say that if you don’t read any of the other Cradle books, you should at least read this one, but unlike the seventh book (which as you’ll recall I accidentally read first), I don’t think this one would be an interesting experience to read alone – it would probably just be confusing. So I don’t hope that you just jump in and read Ghostwater, but I do hope that you read the rest of the series, if for no other reason than to enjoy this book.