It’s opening night at the Inverted Theater, and a god is dying under the moonlight.
This is how the curtains lift upon Simon Jimenez’s “The Spear Cuts Through Water,” where the playhouse is rendered in dreams and generational oral tradition. On stage, Jun, a guilt-ridden royal son, and Keema, a warrior sworn to transport a spear across the land, are tasked with a five-day pilgrimage accompanying the moribund deity in pursuit of an end to the emperor’s tyrannical reign. Comprising the author’s resounding second novel, the tale is a thunderous epic fantasy that subverts all expectations of the genre, delivering both game-changing craft and magnetic intimacy.
And indeed, if there’s any word that Jimenez can pen down to full-bodied breadth, it’s “epic” — “The Spear Cuts Through Water” is as heroic as it is reminiscent of the ancient epic poem. Blossoming with lush detail without boasting grandiloquence, Jimenez narrates in riot against the finitudes of categorization. Levitating in the interlude between poetry and prose, his writing adopts the dynamism of the novel’s titular water: supernally phantasmagoric, descriptions billow like a liquid tapestry of text as folklore congregates the pages.
Though Jimenez’s talent is perhaps most captivating when armed with the iridescence of his melodious style, he’s equally as inclined toward furnishing his main characters with witty, youthful snark. Each obstinate, driven and coming to terms with their pasts, both Jun and Keema continually remind readers of their humanness through their inquisitive outlooks and mercurial rapport. In the vortex of the novel’s sweeping lore lie the speckles of their warmth, written with both solemnity and playfulness in Jimenez’s perceptive hand.
More than embodying a tour de force of storytelling, “The Spear Cuts Through Water” interrogates the intricacies of power and monarchy with deft acumen. Steered by breath-thieving action and desperate dialogue, motifs of control and acceptance detonate against the novel’s backdrop of a despotic empire. As themes of identity intersect with moral conflict and divine violence, the inexhaustible dilemmas, promises and sacrifices faced by Jun and Keema burst forth as consequences of their defiance.
The scale of Jimenez’s narration, however, transcends the experiences of its two protagonists. Grand and all-encompassing, it folds first, second and third person narration into a text churning with haunting urgency, painterly lyricism and expansive focalization. Here, Jimenez invents with ingenuity: italics are repurposed to convey a chorale of perspectives, constituting the stream-of-consciousness chatter of characters both prominent and auxiliary. Warping narrative convention, the novel’s myriad voices vy for exposure as point of views shift and psyches scatter in and out of visibility.
As Jimenez continually showcases his mastery of upending genre norms, he dictates his own terms by molding the novel into a blank canvas prepped for reinvention. Despite a dearth of the concrete, practical worldbuilding that was lauded in Samantha Shannon’s “The Priory of the Orange Tree” or the freewheeling storyline of Fonda Lee’s “Jade City,” “The Spear Cuts Through Water” compensates with fierce pioneering, inexplicable magic and beleaguered beasts. The silhouette of its plot, fundamentally uncomplex yet concisely elegant, incarnates the skeleton around which Jimenez fleshes out his story with meticulous detail.
It’s easy, however, to get lost while meandering through the novel’s passages — sumptuous in depth yet at times congested by specificity, there’s an almost unfathomable quality to the fervent density of Jimenez’s world. If unarmed with the perseverance required by the book’s idiosyncratic, at times labyrinthine style, its fantasy becomes formidable and its magic impenetrable, walking the fine line between daring conceptualization and distant esoterism.
Despite the daunting task of ambling across the novel’s sinuous, textured curves, “The Spear Cuts Through Water” beckons to its readers with oneiric mystique, situating its audience as not merely witnesses but also participants to its effulgent performance. Just as the spear cuts through water, the Inverted Theater’s ambitious tale cleaves knife-sharp to the hearts of its audience, its glinting edge polished by Jimenez’s remarkable artistry.