Review: Call Upon the Water by Stella Tillyard

The first thing that went through my mind when I read the summary of this book was it sounded a lot like Philippa Gregory’s latest novel, Tidelands, which I have not read but has definitely been on my radar. I picked up Tidelands from my library but I only got a couple of chapters in before I had to return it.

Since then I’ve been meaning to pick it back up and continue the story but I have other books that have been rather diverting. So when this book came up for review I was eager to read it because it sounded so similar.

Tillyard has written a number of novels and clearly has experience in this time period so I was excited to try out this book and see how it was!


In 1649, Jan Brunt arrives in Great Britain from the Netherlands to work on draining and developing an expanse of marshy wetlands known as the Great Level. It is here in this wild country that he meets Eliza, a local woman whose love overturns his ordered vision. Determined to help her strive beyond her situation, Jan is heedless of her devotion to her home and way of life. When she uses the education Jan has given her to sabotage his work, Eliza is brutally punished, and Jan flees to the New World.

In the American colonies, profiteers on Manatus Eyland are hungry for viable land to develop, and Jan’s skills as an engineer are highly prized. His prosperous new life is rattled, however, on a spring morning when a boy delivers a note that prompts him to remember the Great Level, and confront all that was lost there. Eliza has made it to the New World and is once again using the education Jan gave her to bend the landscape—this time to find her own place of freedom.

A “story of passion, possession, and a painful education in love” (Sarah Dunant, author of In the Name of the Family), Call Upon the Water is an adventure, an unusual and intelligent love story, and a powerful comment on the relationship between humans and the environment. “Richly involving…rousing and heroic” (The Guardian), this unforgettable historical novel is perfect for fans of Hilary Mantel, Geraldine Brooks, and Philippa Gregory (summary from Goodreads).


This book ended up being a lot shorter than I anticipated and as such, I thought I would finish is super fast but I actually found myself dragging it out over a few days. That’s not to say that it was bad, but it was a novel that isn’t meant to be rushed.

I think one of the things that bogged this book down a little was the language/prose. The prose was rich, but at times too rich and thick to the point of slowing things down a little. There was a lot of detail poured into this one in only a small amount of pages and even though there was a lot to enjoy in the writing, for me it just became a little much.

This book ended up being just ok for me. I thought the author did a great job with the time period and clearly feels comfortable in that time and with the characters, but the lengthy prose was a little much for me and just slowed things down unexpectedly.

I did enjoy how she made the daily lives of normal people come to life on the pages. Not every book needs to be about royalty or someone famous, sometimes its the little guys who have more impactful stories because of their normalcy and this is one of those times. While I don’t know that this book is impactful per say, but I throughly enjoyed getting to know the characters and their daily lives.

A solid three star rating for me!

Book Info and Summary

ebook, 288 pages
Published September 17th 2019 by Atria Books
ISBN 1982121017 (ISBN13: 9781982121013)
Free review copy provided by publisher, Atria Books, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and in no way influenced.
Rating: 3 stars
Genre: historical fiction


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