4 of 5 stars.
When creatures of folklore appear in fantasy, they often inject a wild element into the civilized backdrop of the tale. This heart-felt novella upends that notion by having the non-human creature, a water sprite known as a nixie in Germanic mythos, remind the protagonist of his humanity amid the decadence and superficiality of Louis XV’s court at Versailles.
Sylvain, a war hero, now dazzles the court of France with his successful efforts to restore the Sun King’s fountains at Versailles. After the fountains are spraying around the clock like never before, he introduces plumbing and toilets, here cleverly called thrones, to the royal suites and then to the top-most residents. But praise doesn’t last long in the court despite the great efforts, and Sylvain is always left upping himself.
Only Sylvain’s truest friend, LeBlanc, knows that the water features are the work of the nixie Sylvain captured away on campaign and now keeps in the cistern. Sylvain has little time for the creature himself, but lets his friend handle the so-called Little Fish to keep her supernatural magic running the place. When Leblanc is found dead, Sylvain must learn to appease the sometimes bored and sometimes emotional nixie and coach her into pulling bigger and better stunts, such as supporting the plumbing throughout the entire palace giving thrones to all regardless of rank . . .
The heart of the story lies in the growing relationship between Little Fish and Sylvain. She ultimately wants to please and strives to understand. Sylvain grows to regard her as more than a mere beast there to do his bidding. With all the petty humans of the court sleeping around behind their spouses and generally being detestable and classist, the nixie’s simplicity and loyalty sets the best example.