Do you know what it’s like to hold magic in your hands?
Every once in a while, a book comes along that makes me want to find and hug every person that ever helped me learn to read. Without reading, I would never have discovered magic. These days, it’s really hard to find the threads of beauty in everyday life; it often feels obscured by the anxiety and uncertainty of adulthood. Then along comes a book; a couple hundred thousand words bound together in just the right order. For me as a reader they aren’t a recipe, they are more like a spell. An enchantment that transforms, transports; a warm blanket to dull the chill of reality.
When I picked up A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross, her first adult fantasy novel in a planned duology, I quickly realized it held elements that could make it a book I’d enjoy (always helpful, though not always found in every novel you review). This book benefits from a beautifully intriguing cover that urges the reader forward toward the answers inside. Once there, expect to be swallowed whole into a world that feels as though it lives on the fringes of our past, an echo of a place we might know, but this one is flush with magic. Most of our story takes place on an island called Cadence, a place split apart by two warring clans who are fractured by a generations-old story of hatred. We’re introduced in the opening pages to Jack, who is being called back to the isle of Cadence by his Laird after spending many years studying music at university on the far less magical, more practical mainland. Jack is quite conflicted about his return. He’s carrying with him quite a bit of turmoil and pain over the way he was shipped off to school in his youth. I immediately connected with his character and this journey he was taking back to a home that no longer feels like home. One of the benefits of starting this book from Jack’s perspective is that Ross was able to effectively build the world in a way that never felt like the dreaded-info dump that can plague fantasy novels. Every description and explanation was well placed and doled out perfectly to enhance the natural rhythms of the story.
After Jack arrives back on Cadence, we’re introduced to a whole host of characters that make the isle come to life. At the heart of the story are Guard Captain Torin and his wife Sidra, Jack’s mother Mirin, and his childhood nemesis Adaira, who is the only child of the laird to Jack’s clan, The Tamerlaines. While each character followed has their own secrets and motivations, the overarching plot of this novel involves the young girls of the Tamerlaine clan going missing. Each character has a part to play in the mystery, self-proclaimed outcast Jack included.
The strength of this story lies in the construction of Ross’s prose. She has written into existence some of the most beautiful passages I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading in a fantasy novel. Her descriptions of Cadence and its inhabitants take on a lyrical quality that beckons you to marvel at their divine lilt. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace, neither too fast nor too slow, just right to gather the clues we need to meet the staggering final act where all is revealed. Along the way, readers will become immersed in a living breathing community, where friendship and romance blossoms, where the spirits of the world live in tandem with the clans, and where folktales and ballads carry more truth than fiction. But secrets threaten the safety of all as Ross crafts a shocking finale that pulls double duty, successfully wrapping up the storyline of this book while laying the groundwork for the final novel in the duology (currently slated for a December 2022 release).
It’s not every day that one of these special works finds its way into your hands. But when it does, you feel a bone-deep gratitude for living in a world that has words. It compels you to stand outside and breathe deep with the awareness of humanity and the threads that bind us all together on this great ball floating in space. These types of books aren’t the same for every person, we all have different preferences and interests. But when we find the ones that are right for us, they sing to our soul. They are the closest we’ll come to magic. A River Enchanted plucked just the right notes for me, holding me bound in a bewitched thrall until the final page.
A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross is available today wherever fine books are sold.