Ferryman by Scottish writer Claire McFall and Along the Saltwise Sea by A. Deborah Baker (Seanan McGuire) are both beautifully written fantasies with protagonists who seem to me much younger than the teenagers they’re supposed to be. Both stories are told from the perspective of the wise older women who wrote them, providing insight into the growth of their young protagonists. But the strength of both books is the descriptions. All the teens journey through fantasy worlds so intricate and surprising, that their landscapes becomes both character and metaphor.
Along the Saltwise Sea is the second novella in the Up-and-Under Series. (A rather delightful synopsis of the first novella is provided as part of this new book, but the first book, Over the Woodward Wall is still available.) It involves two children of opposite temperament and upbringing who have together fallen over a Wall into another world. Wild Zeb and cautious Avery seem to be not so much falling in love as bonding by the necessity of their adventures. As they navigate the hazardous and ever-changing world they find themselves in, they need to learn to understand each other and, as a result, themselves.
Ferryman is a straight-forward romance between a very naïve teenage girl named Dylan and a person who calls himself Tristan, whose job it is to guide her across the wasteland between death and eternal life. It’s an intriguing idea, and the landscape of Dylan’s voyage is both ordinary and inexplicably surreal. This purgatory, it seems, is heart-wrenchingly dangerous and, in the end, possibly not worth surviving. The romance broke no new ground for me in the magical-being-falling-in-love-with-ordinary-teen-girl genre, but I very much liked the book’s unique and thought-provoking exploration of the landscape of heaven and hell.