Three Wells of the Sea

by Terry Madden

Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes


Three Wells of the Sea is a thoroughly enjoyable Celtic fantasy. There are druids and kings, mistresses and magic, betrayals, reversals and surprises galore. In tone it reminds me of Tad Williams To Green Angel Tower, though Three Wells is shorter by several hundred pages. (I'm not entirely sure why Terry Madden's book reminds me of Tad Williams's opus, but I can't get the comparison out of my mind.)

Madden's story begins in our modern world with a young man, Connor, about to be punished by the principal of his school. He is "rescued" by the intervention of his English teacher, Dish. Connor isn't particularly happy with this turn of events, as his dearest wish is to be kicked out of boarding school. 

Given the teacher's apparent interest in the troubled student, the principal puts Connor under Dish's supervision. Dish is coach of the track team, and so Connor has to start running. Literally. Connor finds that running gives him something to strive for, and his attitude begins to improve. (This was a relief, as I wasn't thrilled with the idea of spending an entire novel with a whiner.) But their relationship isn't that simple. Dish has some sort of connection with another realm. A magical Celtic realm, located beyond certain magical waters.
Whether or not Dish is entirely aware of his connection with this other realm we aren't quite sure, but he certainly isn't eager to bring Connor into his adventures (hallucinations?).

One of the things I found most enjoyable here—and I think you will, too—is that the characters frequently misunderstand each other. They often ascribe to each other incorrect motivation and falsely assign blame. Their collisions and conflict are occasionally avoidable, if only they could see the overall story as clearly as the reader. They almost feel human in this respect. 

I should also mention that many of the characters are deceitful. Lies and double-crosses become unmasked as the plot unfolds, often too late for the "hero" characters to do anything about them.

The reader, too, remains a couple of steps behind in understanding, giving us a delectable sense of surprise. 

Or dismay.

To me, this all shows that Three Wells of the Sea is both a character-driven and plot-driven story. 

Shortly after our introduction to Dish and Connor in this world, we are treated with a look into the magical realm of druids and kings, where a woman named Ava just managed to have herself declared Queen of the land. On the run, the druid Lyleth refuses to accept the queen, and forms a dangerous and unlikely plan—to resurrect the former king to wage war on Queen Ava.

Naturally she is pursued.

The druid Lyleth succeeds—partly. The newly-resurrected king doesn't have the markings of leadership, tattoos that he wore in life. Without these marks of approval from the spirits, can he succeed in gaining the loyalty of the clans? Is he even the rightful king at all?

The druid Lyleth isn't sure.

The two worlds, modern and mythical Celtic, overlap through magical "wells" or bodies of water. I will leave the discovery of that, and its significance, to your reading.

Three Wells is part of a series but if you are impatient, never fear, it comes to a satisfying conclusion all its own. According to the blurb, the next installment in the series begins six years later.

Overall, I enthusiastically endorse this book as a worthy addition to Celtic cannon. If you are a fan of Celtic literature, or have fond memories of To Green Angel Tower in particular, pick up Three Wells of the Sea as fast as you can.