The story is performed in the Inverted Theater, which exists outside of time and can only be visited while one is dreaming. An unnamed spectator sits in the audience and is told that this story is a love story.
It is summer, as it always is in the Old Country, and one fateful night, the omnipotent emperor goes to visit his imprisoned wife, the Moon god, for the first time in decades. She promptly plasters his viscera against the wall of her cell and flees, hunted by her eldest son, the First Terror. She is accompanied by Jun, a soldier she swayed to her cause; Keema of the Daware Tribe, a young, one-armed warrior tasked by his commander with delivering a spear to a woman on the coast; and a deformed tortoise telepathically linked to all its kin. While gods scheme, armies mass and the empire crumbles from its center, the fate of the world depends on two young men, an animal and a god whose power is waning.
The Spear Cuts Through Water is beautifully, lovingly crafted. Simon Jimenez’s writing is dense and poetic, suffused with a sun-bleached elegance that is wholly at odds with the nightmarish and gruesome world it depicts. The Spear Cuts Through Water is, to be clear, a very disturbing book. Turning each page is more likely to reveal an abattoir than anything else—albeit one painted in mythic prose. But scattered throughout are moments of peace and realization, brief tableaux in which the love story that was promised peeks out. Despite this being a tale of gods and demons, of psychic tortoises and a Moonless sky, Jimenez never forgets the pair of humans struggling along at its heart.
Jimenez veers unpredictably between worlds, interweaving Keema and Jun’s epic journey with vignettes from the unnamed spectator’s life in our own reality, one with absentee fathers and school bullies and bloody wars across an ocean. Against this backdrop, the story of the Moon god and the emperor seems allegorical, like there is a message somewhere within the sweltering, endless summer of the Old Country. But Jimenez does not show his hand right away. Rather, he pulls the reader along, coaxing them through a thicket of ghoulish horrors with the promise of a moral and a meaning to be delivered by the time the curtain falls. And in the end, he does not disappoint.