I was looking forward to reading The Water Castle more than any other title on Sam's list. I am all about spooky old houses and baroque, intertwining plots. The intersection of fantasy, mystery, and science fiction is also an exciting place for me as a reader.
I'm afraid I'm with Nina Lindsay here. I just can't see any distinguished elements in this book.
Sam extolled the character development, but I disagree. The three main characters - Ephraim, Mallory, and Will - are reasonably well-developed, but they certainly don't measure up well beside Delphine of P.S. Be Eleven, Oscar of The Real Boy, or Billy Miller. The secondary characters, on the other hand, are either vague outlines (Ephraim's mother, Brynn, Mallory's dad) or caricatures meant to advance the plot (Price, Will's dad, Orlando Appledore). I agree with whoever said that Price seems to exist only to provide a foil for Ephraim's immaturity and ineptitude. Ditto Winifred Wylie, who's a total Nellie Oleson, and a foil for Nora.
I can't find a lot to admire in the plot either. The multiple threads are handled clumsily, and a lot of the events feel forced. I was particularly disappointed in the sudden resolution of the conflict among Ephraim, Mallory, and Will. One minute they're enemies, and the next they're friends, and this is brought about by... what? A walk down a tunnel? That's a failing of both character and plot, actually.
Sam also admired the ambiguous ending, and the way the author doesn't spell out the solutions to the various mysteries. I actually agree with him on that, but it feels disingenuous after the reader has been bashed with the foreshadowing stick for the preceding 275 pages. You can't give a Dickens novel a Virginia Woolf ending. Or you can, I guess, but it makes for a jarring reading experience.
Some of the prose is well-crafted, stylistically, but that's not enough to save The Water Castle for me.