Book Review: The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway
Lord Nicholas Falcott, Marquess of Blackdown, facing certain death on the the battlefield, suddenly and inexplicably jumps from his own time in 1815 into the future — 2003, to be precise. There, he is greeted and inducted into the Guild, a society whose purpose is to assist time jumpers like Nicholas with adapting to their new worlds. The Guild has only four rules:
There Is No Return.
There Is No Return.
Tell No One.
Uphold the Rules.
Yes, that is, in fact, four different rules. Number one refers to time, and number two refers to location. After spending a year in “future school”, during which Nick learns the basics of 21st century life, catches up on decades’ worth of TV viewing, learns to speak a more modern version of English, and has the sharp edges of his upper-crust snobbery sanded down, he is packed off to life in America, never to return to the United Kingdom and the land of his ancestors. And for ten years, that’s pretty much okay. Bankrolled by the Guild, Nick settles into a life as a wealthy playboy in New York with a little Vermont getaway for when he wants peace and quiet.
But when the Guild recalls Nick to London for a meeting, it turns out that rules are made to be broken — at least, if you’re in the inner circle and in the know. For ten years, Nick took it as a given that it was impossible to travel back through time. Turns out — well, not so much. Time travel is possible, if you know how, and Nick is taught the biggest lesson of all: Time is a river, and trained members of the Guild can use the currents of the river to travel to precise points in the past and future. The mission of the Guild is to protect the river, and Nick has been brought into the inner circle to learn a well-guarded secret: A splinter group called the Ofan are trying to tamper with time, and must be stopped. The Guild needs Nick to go back to his original time, infiltrate the Ofan, and do whatever it takes to prevent catastrophe.
Nick has a secret too: He’s never quite forgotten the dark-eyed girl from his youth who once comforted him in a moment of sorrow. Thrust back into his own past, Nick once again encounters the beautiful, tragic Julia Percy, now grown up and in need of his help. Nick cannot deny the growing passion and deep-seated love he feels for Julia, but events and secrets threaten to keep them apart. And Julia has secrets of her own, secrets that may rock Nick’s world if he can manage to unravel the clues.
Enough with the synopsis, don’t you think? I certainly don’t want to reveal too much and ruin the fun. And fun it is! I loved The River of No Return. From the first pages, I couldn’t wait to find out more. Who is Nick Falcott? Who is Julia Percy? What does the Guild want from them? Is there more to the secrets of time manipulation than they’ve been told? And how can they get at the truth? With each new chapter, more pieces of the puzzle are assembled, but the plot twists and turns in so many deliciously unpredictable ways that when the big reveals finally come, they’re still a complete surprise.
Nicholas and Julia are well-defined, sympathetic, strong characters. Nick is handsome, rugged, a soldier, an aristocrat — but also quite happy to put on his 21st century jeans, kick back, and enjoy the freedoms of the modern era, particularly the lack of social constraints based on gender and class. Julia is an orphaned girl raised in relative isolation by a doting grandfather, but this seemingly meek woman has a backbone and a will of her own, and when she finally starts to realize her own strengths and gifts, she’s a force to be reckoned with. Together, Nick and Julia are magical. Their passion is intense and smoldering, and you can feel from their very first kiss that their connection will not be denied.
The River of No Return has so many elements that really make a book sing for me. It’s part historical fiction, part time travel fantasy, with heaping doses of mystery and romance as well. I was reminded in tone, though not really in content, of Deborah Harkness’s books, A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night — not that The River of No Return has supernatural characters, but rather because of the well-researched historical detail intertwined with a modern love story and mystery, the drama of two lovers having to struggle against sinister forces that they don’t fully understand, and the passionate link between two people who probably have no business being in each other’s lives at all.
The writing in The River of No Return is both elegant and fast-paced. As the characters inhabit different eras, their language and surroundings change as well, and it’s vastly entertaining to see them adjust and readjust to the customs, manners, and dress of each world. I loved, too, the characters’ obvious delight in the various sights and smells of the the different times. Nick has a visceral, overpowering reaction to his reentry into the 19th century:
Before opening his eyes he breathed, and immediately he was weeping. The air was sweet, sweeter than any air he had breathed in ten years, and it smelled so powerfully of home that Nick began to sink to his knees.
In less dramatic moments, it’s a treat to see the time travelers and the Naturals (basically, the Muggles of the time-travel world) react with pleasure or confusion as they encounter anachronistic artifacts and articles, such as a photograph, a Rubik’s cube, and a jacket with a zipper — all in the wrong place and the wrong time. It’s all put together with skill and flair, so that the story elements never feel too far-fetched or fantastical. Instead, in The River of No Return, the author creates a world that feels very much like our own, in which there are secret forces at play that affect everything but remain undetected by all but a chosen few.
My only quibble — and it’s a product of how much I enjoyed this book — is that by the time I got to within 100 pages of the end of The River of No Return, I started to have that sinking feeling I get when I realize that there’s no possible way to fully wrap up this story in the pages that remain. And sadly, that turned out to be the case here. While there’s no mention of a sequel on the book jacket or on the author’s website, there are loose ends and further conflicts that remain unresolved at the end of the book. Not to say that The River of No Return ends badly; on the contrary, I loved the ending, and especially loved the promise of what must come next in the characters’ lives. Still, I’d also love to know that there will, in fact, be a sequel. I’m hooked, and I want more!
Do I recommend The River of No Return? Absolutely. Fans of Deborah Harkness and Diana Gabaldon should definitely pick up this terrific novel — and really, so should just about anyone who appreciates good writing, an engrossing plot, and sharply developed characters. Be warned: I lost sleep over The River of No Return, and you probably will as well. Once you start, it’s hard to walk away. I enjoyed this centuries-spanning novel of romance, intrigue, and time travel, and would love to see it become a big success.
Check it out! And then stop by again and let me know what you think. Let’s discuss!
Review copy courtesy of Dutton Publishing.