Saturday, October 23, 2010

Book Review: "Watermark"

Vanitha Sankaran's debut novel is Watermark (Avon, 2010), set in fourteenth-century Narbonne (France) and featuring as its unlikely heroine the mute, albino daughter of a papermaker/scribe. Young Auda finds herself unwittingly caught up in the nets of the Inquisition as its agents seek out heretical elements in the city, and the story revolves around her attempts to keep herself and her family safe from the Inquisitor's clutches.

While the characters here might have used some more development (Auda herself is well-drawn, but her family members and others who play important roles are somewhat flat), Sankaran's created a well-structured novel which carries itself along quite nicely.

The best part for me (perhaps obviously) is the discussion of early papermaking, the technique of which is well handled here (as is the question of paper use vs. parchment use for various things). Sankaran's interest in such things is clear, and her research shows. Her next book is reportedly on printmaking in Renaissance Venice, so we can expect more from this promising author.