Book review: At the Water’s Edge, by Sara Gruen

atthewatersAlthough I was not a huge fan of Sara Gruen’s previous bestseller, Water for Elephants, I decided to give this novel a try — the setting of Scotland was far more interesting to me, and I’m a fan of most historical fiction, though not usually WWII. And who can resist a trio of friends searching for the Loch Ness monster?

I should have been unsurprised, though, the have the same milquetoast response to At the Water’s Edge as I did to Gruen’s earlier work. It wasn’t bad, not in any sense. The story was compelling and I wanted to know how it ended… especially mid-book or so, when it seemed like nothing had happened for some time, I really wanted to know how it ended… but the characters just missed the mark. Gruen’s talent seems to be for fantastical settings and detailed world-building, but when it comes to the people inhabiting her written sphere, there’s something to be desired.

Everyone is interesting and creatively imagined, but not at all fully fleshed out. Maddie is the one we get the best feel for, as the narrator. Ellis and Hank were two-dimensional and barely differentiated from each other. The people Maddie and her companions encounter at the inn, in Scotland,┬áhad no real character development, — even including Angus, whose role becomes rather important. He was delivered here as little more than a dark-haired Jamie Fraser, and with a dark past that frankly paled in comparison to that of Diana Gabaldon’s hero. There a bit of a derivative feel in other places, too. Certain plot points felt a bit too much like an early season of “Downton Abbey”, albeit with a different war as the backdrop.

The end — where we leave our heroine, and where everyone ends up — was satisfying, so that improved my experience of reading it. Certainly some readers will enjoy the book as a whole more than I did. It would make a good read for a plane trip, or at the beach on vacation, but I can’t recommend it any higher than that.

At the Water’s Edge will be available in hardcover, large print and Kindle format on March 31, 2015. I received an Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Random House for the purposes of review.