Back in 2020, Simon Jimenez released his first major book, The Vanished Birds. I actually read it then and declined to review it despite all the buzz surrounding the release. My reasoning for this was simple: despite being one of the best books I had read that year, the subject matter (the torture and death of children, among other things) upset me so greatly that I felt unable to give the book an unbiased review. Jimenez was such an effective and moving writer that I had to back away because The Vanished Birds damaged my psyche. So exciting news! Jimenez is back with his next book, The Spear Cuts Through Water, and I am ready to get hurt again. While his signature hauntingly beautiful writing and shockingly dark set pieces are both still here, this book resonated with me a lot more than Birds without also sending me into a depressive spiral.
Right off the bat, I will tell you that I have no criticisms of Spear and that it’s easily going to be in our top books of 2022, likely near the top of the list. At a high level, Spear is a simple story about two unlikely allies that come together to transport a dying goddess from prison on one side of a country to the other over five days. The entire time this is happening, they are being chased by a menagerie of villains that want to stop them for a variety of reasons. But, this is an extremely surface-level summary of this book that doesn’t do its ocean-like depth any justice.
In reality, Spear is a story about storytelling. It is a tale that explores the ideas of family, self-identity, determinism, growth, evil, duty, the concept of the passage of time, and more. The narrative structure of the story is utterly unique, and anyone who likes new takes on how a story is told will find themselves immensely satisfied. The worldbuilding has a focus on whimsy and soft worldbuilding while still feeling very realized and meaty. The setting pulls you in and invests you in the tale to the point where the stakes feel very real and the tragedies very tragic.
Jimenez is one of the best writers I have read at using juxtaposition to powerful effect. This shows up in places where he pairs humor and despair to make both sharper; or when he casually unveils extreme violence to sicken the reader with a character’s indifference. All of it has a cumulative effect of making Spear feel smart, introspective, and emotionally moving—and there is little more I can ask from a book.
Yet, despite being utterly satisfied by the list of gifts above, Jimenez is not done providing. The leads, Jun and Keema, have fabulous chemistry and managed to sneak a powerful love story into the book while I wasn’t looking. This shouldn’t have been that surprising; the book counts the various forms love can take as one of its many themes. The supporting cast is eclectic, including a number of antagonists that bring new meaning to the word villain. There is also impressive character growth for a standalone book that is only about five hundred pages long. And this growth is not just contained to the protagonists, Jimenez treats every character with dignity and attention to detail.
Really, I could go on and on about the little things that make The Spear Cuts Through Water special, but I feel like all I really need to say is that this book slapped me awake hard. It is the kind of story that makes you sit up and pay attention to every word. It makes you feel things, good and bad, and then helps you explore what those feelings mean and how you feel about those feelings. The prose is downright poetic and those who love the written word can get lost in the beautiful script that flows from Jimenez’s pen. The ideas are original and represent an experience that you aren’t going to get anywhere else. Overall, The Spear Cuts Through Water is just a really, really, good book, and it has an absolutely fabulous cover (my favorite of the year) to go with it.
Rating: The Spear Cuts Through Water – 10/10