Colleen Mondor reviews A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross – Locus Online
A river enchantedRebecca Ross (Harper Voyager 978-1-250-81107-3, $ 27.99, hc, 480pp) February 2022.
In Rebecca Ross’ fascinating mystery / fantasy / drama / romance, A river enchantedJack Tamerlaine is called home to the island of Cadence for reasons he does not understand. Imbued with the magic of the spirits that live in the countryside and in the water around the island, Cadence is also in the middle of a long-running conflict between the two clans, the Tamerlaines and the Breccans, who live there. The origins of the war are buried in legends and song, but the end result is deep mistrust, resulting in sporadic border abuses and killings. Jack has been away for years on the mainland, studying music, and had no intention of returning. Then his master sends a message he cannot ignore, and he is in the middle of a mess that threatens everything and everyone he loves.
A river enchanted read very much like a fantasy, and although there are many similarities with Scottish history (clans, lairds, plaids, music), the inclusion of whimsical spirits certainly removes the novel from any kind of historical novel comparison. A mysterious aspect comes into play when Jack learns that some Tamerlaine children, all girls, have been kidnapped and possibly killed. Everyone in his clan suspects Breccans, but if this is true it will be a terrible escalation. The disappearances are the root of why Jack has been called home – to serve as a bard and perform special songs that will initiate communication with the spirits who may have information about the missing girls. It is the sister’s daughter, Adaira, who thinks the answer lies with them, and Adaira is the one who insists that Jack get help. His feelings for her are complicated by some ugly childhood moments, but they get past it and work together to solve the crime. At the same time, Adaira’s cousin Torin and his wife Sidra are struggling with their own problems that are soon engulfed in the greater mystery. The story moves forward between all four of these characters, who each make their own discoveries and share their own revelations, as they get to the bottom of some long-held secrets that can no longer remain hidden.
A big part of why A river enchanted is such a wonderful book (and it’s really amazing!) is because Ross treats the mystery of the missing girls with respect. This is not just a plot unit made to throw different characters together, it really is a puzzle that must be solved in a traditional way for crime. While Jack is the main character of the novel, everyone else has important roles to play in arriving at the truth, and especially Torin and Sidra are convincing supporting characters who enrich the general story enormously. Their relationship is a continuous surprise and serves as an important counterweight to the drama between Jack and Adaira.
A river enchanted is perfect for readers who like thoughtful world-building and conflict-filled characters. A bit of classic power politics can be found here, as well as light romance, but mostly it’s the mystery that draws you in. However, do not be afraid that the novel will stray into serial killer territory; that’s not what Ross’s about. This is a writer who wants to explore the lingering effects of ancient stories and consider how magic can nurture conflicts. She is a curious writer with the talent to fill a landscape with clever characters who make very human mistakes. Give A river enchanted just a few minutes of your time and I promise you will be drawn in to the very end.
Colleen Mondor, co-editor, is an author, historian and reviewer who owns an airline leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and regularly reviews for ALA’s book list. She is currently working on a book about Mt. The 1932 McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition and her family live in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like the June 2022 issue of Locus.
While you’re here, please take the time to support Locus with a one-time donation or recurring donation. We rely on reader donations to keep the magazine and site running, and want to keep the site’s payment wall free, but WE NEED YOUR FINANCIAL SUPPORT to continue quality coverage of the science fiction and fantasy fields.
© Locus Magazine. Copyrighted material may not be republished without permission from LSFF.