on April 23, 2013
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In Bee Ridgway’s wonderfully imaginative debut novel, a man and a woman travel through time in a quest to bring down a secret society that controls the past and, thus, the future.
“You are now a member of the Guild. There is no return.” Two hundred years after he was about to die on a Napoleonic battlefield, Nick Falcott, soldier and aristocrat, wakes up in a hospital bed in modern London. The Guild, an entity that controls time travel, showers him with life's advantages. But Nick yearns for home and for one brown-eyed girl, lost now down the centuries. Then the Guild asks him to break its own rule. It needs Nick to go back to 1815 to fight the Guild’s enemies and to find something called the Talisman.
In 1815, Julia Percy mourns the death of her beloved grandfather, an earl who could play with time. On his deathbed he whispers in her ear: “Pretend!” Pretend what? When Nick returns home as if from the dead, older than he should be and battle scarred, Julia begins to suspect that her very life depends upon the secrets Grandfather never told her. Soon enough Julia and Nick are caught up in an adventure that stretches up and down the river of time. As their knowledge of the Guild and their feelings for each other grow, the fate of the future itself is hanging in the balance.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
When I was offered the chance to read and review The River of No Return, I jumped at it. I had seen the book on a few bloggers’ lists of books they were looking forward to, and I was really intrigued. Well, let me tell you, The River of No Return is everything it promises to be. I loved it!
The River of No Return catches you up within the first chapter and sweeps you along inexorably — into the present, into the past, into a world of truth and lies, trusted friends and double agents, secrets and intrigue. Ridgway seamlessly blends historical fiction, time-travel fantasy, romance, and suspense. The resulting novel is at once broad and personal.
I found Nick an intriguing main character, with his blend of modern and nineteenth-century attitudes. The majority of The River of No Return takes place in 1815, which highlights the dichotomy and makes it both more challenging and more poignant. Julia, the other point-of-view character, is a little more typical — perhaps not so much of her time as of Regency romance heroines. Yet at the same time, she is as individual, and nearly as complex, as Nick himself. I loved the developing relationship between them even as I knew where it was headed.
Or rather, suspected where it was going — because many things in this novel are not what they appear, or are not only what they appear. Reading this book, you soon learn to look for layers in everything. Ambiguity, multiple meanings, false fronts, and symbolism are everywhere, in the characters and their words and actions as well as in the text. The title itself can be interpreted in several ways, and is both false and true.
Adding to the depth and richness is the way Ridgway weaves in quotations from and allusions to the literature of five centuries, from Shakespeare to Winnie the Pooh and Dr. Seuss. Some of these the characters themselves quote consciously, but others are woven into the fabric of the novel, nearly invisible unless you happen to recognize them. (I’m quite sure I missed a number of these in my haste to find out what would happen next; I plan to read more slowly next time, so as to find and savor them.)
Ridgway’s approach to time travel is unique and fascinating. >Even by the end of the book, I felt that neither I nor any of the characters fully understood all its secrets, which only served to deepen the mystery and appeal.
As for the historical aspects of the novel, Ridgway (a professor of English literature) has clearly done her research. She brings the sights, sounds, and even smells of 1815 London and Devon to life. Ridgway is equally adept with both mystery and romance. Indeed, her skill and assurance as a writer are remarkable; it’s hard to believe that The River of No Return is her first novel.
I hope it’s also the beginning of a series, for while the book ends on a satisfying note, there are a number of questions left unanswered. There’s certainly scope for at least one sequel, possibly more, and there are a number of characters I would like to know more about: Nick’s sister Clare; Jem Jemison, who fought beside Nick and later became steward on his estate; Leo, Nick’s genius friend; Arkady and Alva and even the mysterious Mr Mibbs. And while Nick and Julia’s relationship seems resolved, I am eager to know where their journey will take them next.
I heartily recommend Bee Ridgway’s The River of No Return to fans of Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy, Jennifer Lee Carrell’s Interred With Their Bones, historical fantasy, time travel novels, and even Regency romance — although the romance here is only part of the story, not the main plot. It’s a deep and nuanced novel which blends genres and blurs the lines between them. And it is, above all else, an enthralling story.