Fans of Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches rejoice—The River of No Return is here!
No, it’s not another book in the Witches series, and no it is not another book from Harkness herself. Instead, it is a debut novel written by another professor (Harkness is at USC); this time by a professor of English literature at Bryn Mawr College, Bee Ridgeway, and her story is 100% sure to grab your attention and devotion if you are a fan of Harkness.
The River of No Return (not to be confused with the Robert Mitchum/Marilyn Monroe film) follows the story of Nick Davenant, nee Lord Nicholas Falcott, a young man thrust through time during the heat of battle in 1813, landing in 2003 to discover he has a unique gift, one that allows for the manipulation of time. It is there that he is taken under the wing of the Guild, a group of powerful men and women with the same abilities as Nick. Ten years later, Nick is plunged through time once again, this time by the Guild, in order to investigate a terrible hole (called “the Pale”) that is threatening the future. Back in his own time Nick is reacquainted with his young love Julia Percy, a Lady with mysterious ties to time, the Guild, and the Guild’s enemies, and who may have the answer to everything.
There is obviously much more to the plot, it’s a fantasy that weaves between time and characters, building itself a rich history and background, laying the groundwork for future sequels. Much like it’s counterparts in fiction, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander and the Deborah Harkness books, The River of No Return has a plot that is intricately drawn and difficult to describe in detail without divulging too much of the plot (something that drives me crazy in reviews). Yet, unlike the books by Harkness, Ridgeway’s book is much more tightly edited, without the pages of droll description or meandering conversation about subjects that have no real bearing on the plot (wine and yoga in the case of Witches). The pacing is good, and only slows to a squeaking (not quite screeching) halt when the concept of “the River” and time are philosophized upon. The book is of course not without fault. Its characters are interesting, although with a few of them it is clear that the author is trying desperately to give them depth and mysterious undercurrents, but instead reduces them to over-dramatic and somewhat farcical creatures. The writing at times loses its crispness, not the plot mind you, but the writing—something that is more common with debuts, and is sure to be honed by the time the sequel arrives. Also, it does leave readers hanging; a plot device that, in this series driven world of entertainment, is something that seems as unavoidable as death, and yet is done in such a way that readers will not be prone to throwing their books across the room in frustration (yes, I’ve done this) because nothing has been resolved.
In all, The River of No Return is a wonderful read. It is fantasy, it is historical, it is romance, and it is intrigue— all those things that help to create a rich and entertaining narrative. If you love those genres, or are a fan of A Discovery of Witches, you will thoroughly enjoy Bee Ridgeway’s debut, and like me, be eagerly waiting on the next installment.