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Book: “A River Enchanted” by Rebecca Ross
Publishing Info: HarperVoyager, February 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: Jack Tamerlaine hasn’t stepped foot on Cadence in ten long years, content to study music at the mainland university. But when young girls start disappearing from the isle, Jack is summoned home to help find them. Enchantments run deep on the magical Isle of Cadence: gossip is carried by the wind, plaid shawls can be as strong as armour, and the smallest cut of a knife can instill fathomless fear. The capricious spirits that live there find mirth in the lives of the humans who call the land home, but that mischief turns to malevolence as girls begin to go missing.
Adaira, heiress of the east, knows the spirits only answer to a bard’s music, enticing them to return the missing girls. But there’s only one bard capable of drawing the spirits forth by song: her childhood enemy Jack Tamerlaine.
He hasn’t stepped foot on Cadence in ten long years, content to study music at the mainland university, but as Jack and Adaira reluctantly work together it becomes apparent the trouble with the spirits is far more sinister than first thought and an older, darker secret lurks beneath the surface, threatening to undo them all.
Review: There’s another cover for this book listed on Goodreads, as well, so I’m not sure exactly which one will be used when the book comes out (I suspect one cover is the U.S. cover and the other U.K.?) But I preferred this one, so that’s what we have here! The colors are lovely and the flowers speak to an important part of the story itself. It wasn’t the cover I saw when I requested an ARC, however, so what really drew me in was the description itself which made it sound like the kind of fantasy novel that Juliet Marillier would write. And that’s all I needed!
It is a dark and stormy night and Jack Tamerlaine is returning to his island home, a land riddled with magic and mystery. After spending his last years learning music, he never planned on returning. That is, not until he received a summons from his childhood rival and the heir to the land, Adaira. Once home, he discovers a mystery of young girls going missing. But it’s unclear whether magical forces are at work or whether it’s the war-like people who occupy the other half of the island who are behind the disappearances. Adaira’s hopes, however, expand beyond simply recovering the missing girls; she hopes to finally bring together both sides of the island, something that hasn’t been attempted for years after the last try went so badly wrong that it struck at the core of magic itself.
I really loved this book. Right from the very first moment, it starts off with the type of lyrical, atmospheric writing that I love to see in fantasy fiction. There’s something about this style that lends the story a fairytale-like feeling, even if the tale itself is completely original and not drawing from any well-known folktales. Ross’s language was able to fully ground the story in a mystical land where words that are spoken can travel on the wind to ears far away, where powerful beings can be summoned with the right strums of a harp’s strings, and where legends as old as time still live and can be stumbled upon if you take a wrong turn while wandering off the roads.
For all of this excellent world-building, the author was equally good at centering the story around several different characters who had very different arcs and challenges throughout the story. The book description misrepresents the characters at the heart of this story. We do, of course, spend a good amount of time with Jack and Adaira. Jack’s story is one of homecoming, full of memories of people who now, essentially, no longer exist being so changed now after the passage of time. He must learn to reconcile the emotions and views of the child he was when he left with what he sees now: flawed people all trying to do the best they can. Adaira’s story is bit more simple; she’s introduced as a beloved and competent leader of her land and, for 99% of the book, that’s what she remains. There are several twists towards the end that give her story more heft, in hindsight. But I was also fully satisfied with her more straight-forward arc on its own as well. However, while Jack and Adaira are central characters, and their slow-burn romance and attempts to solve the mystery of the missing girls drives much of the story, there are two other characters who also get a decent amount of page time.
Sidra and Torin are two “older” characters, probably in the mid-thirties or so? Together they have raised Torin’s daughter whose mother died shortly after her birth. Through these two, the story dives into some deeper topics involving duty, loss of faith, and the commitments that we have to one another that can lead to love, even if they didn’t start as such. These two other characters were both a surprise but also the firmer foundation upon which the rest of the story worked. While I enjoyed Jack and Adaira, their story was more straightforward and, to some extent, predictable. But through Sidra and Torin, we are able to explore an aspect of love much less often touched upon: the kind that develops slowly, over years, and, like faith itself, relies as much on our decision to love and to believe as anything else.
I strongly recommend this book to fans of fantasy fiction, especially those who enjoy literary fantasy or fairytale fantasies. It’s also a refreshing example of adult fantasy fiction and how you can incorporate the “new love” romance that is typically found in YA fantasy while also touching on themes more often found in adult stories.
Rating 9: Lyrical and atmospheric, this story touches on love of all kinds and delves into all the beauty and pain that can be found there.
“A River Enchanted” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on “Music in Fantasy.”