The Up-and-Under, #2: Along the Saltwise Sea
By: A. Deborah Baker
Published: October 12, 2021
Genre: Fantasy/Children’s Literature/Sequel
No matter how strange or improbable the things Avery, Zib, and their friends encounter on their journey through the Up-and-Under, I am telling you the truth as it was seen on those hazy, not-so-long-gone days. There may sometimes be other layers to the truth, things concealed beneath the superficial surface, but I will not say a thing was not so when it was. You can trust me on this journey, even as Avery and Zib could trust the improbable road, (Four: Poetry and Pirates).
The thing I remember most about reading (children’s) books as a kid was how excited I would be to read the next book in a particular series. While there are many children’s books in which the reader can read the books out-of-order, there are a few that make it known you can’t read the upcoming book without reading the previous one(s) in the series. This is because either the narrative is continuous and cannot be interrupted, or a new experience is about to happen to the characters. Yes, there are moments when the author provides recaps or throwbacks so all readers “recall what happened previously.” However, there are some book series that just continue with the story so new readers can read the series with little to no distractions from recaps. A. Deborah Baker—a.k.a. Seanan McGuire—provides a brief recap of Over the Woodward Wall in the 2nd book in The Up-and-Under series, Along the Saltwise Sea.
When we last left the protagonists, Avery (Alexander Grey) and Hepzibah (Laurel Jones), a.k.a. Zib, they had managed to escape from the Queen of Swords, the Page of Frozen Waters, and the King of Cups. Along the way, they befriend the Crow Girl—a former human child who chose to be transformed into a “monster”—and, Niamh—a drowned girl from a city of ice. The 4 of them continue their journey to the Impossible City along the improbable road; but first, they must find the Queen of Wands—who might be able to help Avery and Zib return to their homes—who has been missing for some time. As they continue their journey, the human children realize they are thirsty. They find a well and they drink from it. Then, one thing leads to another, and the 4 travelers find themselves on their way to the Saltwise Sea. There, they find a cottage and they all spend the night there. The next morning, the owner of the cottage—a pirate queen—demands “payment” for her “hospitality.” Soon, Avery, Zib, the Crow Girl and Niamh are taken aboard the ship, Windchaser, to work off their debt to the pirate queen, Captain Alas. Once again, Avery and Zib find themselves in a predicament on their journey to the Impossible City. Both the human children and the Crow Girl find themselves out of their comfort zone; Niamh is able to offer some help to her friends as they sail on the Saltwise Sea. At the same time, Avery and Zib sense there is something Captain Alas is hiding from her crew, and the children. Avery and Zib continue to grow as young children are able to; they continue to learn when to put others before themselves and how individuals who are different from themselves experience similar emotions and similar hardships.
The plot in this book is a continuation from the 1st book in the series. Avery and Zib continue their journey to the Impossible City in the Up-and-Under. Only now, they have to locate the Queen of Wands who is missing. This is essential because the Up-and-Under operates on balance; and, with the Queen of Wands gone—along with the season she “maintains”—the balance cannot be maintained, which means the 4 young travelers cannot enter the Impossible City together. So, as Avery, Zib, the Crow Girl and Niamh travel along the improbable road, they search for the missing queen. There is a subplot in this book, and it involves the 4 Rulers of the Up-and-Under. Avery and Zib have met and escaped from both the King of Cups and the Queen of Swords already; the Queen of Wands is missing, and they have not met the King of Coins yet, but, they are “warned” about him. There are 3 key things to know about each one: 1) Each Ruler rules over a specific country in the Up-and-Under. 2) Each Ruler has both a title and an element which is fixed, meaning each Ruler serves the country, not the other way around. 3) Each Ruler represents a season. For example, the Queen of Wands represents winter; and, until the Queen—or, her replacement—is found, the Up-and-Under will remain unbalanced and anyone who represents the Queen of Wands (i.e. Niamh) CANNOT enter the Impossible City. It can be argued this subplot will become one of the plots in future books in the series. Right now, it serves as a world-building element.
The narrative continues to be presented from the points-of-view of both Avery and Zib in the present. And, the story is presented in 3rd person omniscient, which means neither Avery nor Zib are the narrator, someone else is telling the story. The narrator provides additional insight into what is happening with the characters and the setting while providing details into the world-building. This narrative style follows Avery and Zib’s streams-of-consciousness, which makes them reliable narrators as well. The narrative can be followed easily by readers.
The style Seanan McGuire continues to use a A. Deborah Baker follows the familiarity of children’s literature. For instance, Along the Saltwise Sea is a continuation of the adventures which started in Over the Woodward Wall. This is a children’s series, but this one is similar to Percy Jackson and the Olympians, His Dark Materials, and The Spiderwick Chronicles; each book MUST be read in the order presented by the author! You CANNOT skip over one of the books in the series and expect to comprehend everything that happens in the next book. There is a reason why these books are NOT standalones. In fact, this series has “ties” to the Middlegame series, so both the allegory and the allusion are starting to make sense. The mood in this book is tension. Avery and Zib learn more about the world they’re in and the conflicts in it that are affecting them as well. One Ruler is missing, and the other ones are fighting amongst themselves and within their Courts. The tone in this book is kinship. Avery and Zib continue their unlikely friendship and continue that friendship with the Crow Girl and Niamh. The stronger their friendship, the more “welcome” Avery and Zib begin to feel in the Up-and-Under; yet, they still want to return home.
The appeal for Along the Saltwise Sea have been positive even amongst the confusion. I’ll reiterate this series is written as a companion series to the Middlegame series; and, it’s the 2nd book in a continuous series! You HAVE to read the 1st book before you read this one! And, this is written as a children’s series for a reason! So yes, read them to children and enjoy them yourself, too! Fans of children’s books written by both Holly Black and Katherine Arden will enjoy this book (and the series) the most). In addition, any readers and fans who are waiting for Seasonal Fears—the 2nd book in the Middlegame series—may want to read this book for some “context.” Otherwise, fans of this series can look forward to reading the next book in The Up-and-Under series—Into the Windwracked Wilds—in the near future.
Along the Saltwise Sea is a fun and a fascinating continuation of this unique book series. A. Deborah Baker’s series continues to drop hints to what this narrative is really about. Fans of Seanan McGuire should continue reading The Up-and-Under series because her style of storytelling is in these pages as in her other ones. If you want another reason to read these books, then read them to the children in your family.
My Rating: Enjoy It (4.5 out of 5).