From Baker, who died in January 2010, a third fantasy set in a world inhabited by red-skinned Children of the Sun, green-skinned, forest-dwelling Yendri and tusked, barbaric demons (The House of the Stag, 2008, etc.).
At the urging of her children, teenaged Eliss and ten-year-old, half-Yendri Alder, drug-addicted diver Falena signs on the huge river-maintenance barge of the title for the long voyage up and down a vast unnamed river. All divers are female, and their primary job is to secure “snags,” trees caught underwater that cause navigation hazards. Once recovered, snags are a source of valuable timber—the Yendri don’t take kindly to the felling of live trees. Then when diving for a snag, Falena confronts a headless corpse, suffers a heart attack and is dead before she can be hauled back aboard. Eliss finds gainful employment as masthead lookout, a job she’s very good at. Joining the vessel as a busboy is Krelan, whose family works for the aristocratic Diamondcuts and whose purpose is to find and return the missing head. Alder tires of jibes about “greenies” and runs off into the forest to find his father. The barge works its way up the river, calling at towns that have been or are about to be attacked by curiously well-organized and well-informed bandits. A vivid setting, then, with minimal fantasy elements, agreeably complemented by solid plotting, mysteries, surprises and characters that grow in the telling.
A sparkling farewell from a writer whose illustrious career proved all too brief.