The River of No Return, by Bee Ridgeway (Penguin, 2013), is a new time travel novel for grown-ups, with a generous helping of romance and a bit of sex, set primarily in the early 18th-century, that is more than a little gripping with regard to both plot and character.
And really, do I need to say more than that?
I guess I do, so that I can put it in my List of Time Travel Books. But I will make it snappy.
Main male character: And 18th-century nobleman named Nick is off fighting with Wellington in Spain when he escapes death by jumping forward in time to the present. He is welcomed into a powerful and rich Guild, which seems to be a basically benign time traveller friendly society--helping people settle in to their new time and taking care of their finances. That sort of thing.
But few incredibly rich, powerful organizations are as friendly as they seem. And so, when the Guild demands that Nick travel back to his own time (after ten peaceful years of being rich in the 21st century), he gets the (unwanted) chance to start unwinding various machinations within machinations.
Turns out there's a rival organization of time travellers. They are fighting with the Guild. And the Guild wants Nick to be a spy.
What Nick wants is to live a peaceful, happy life. What Nick didn't expect was that he would a. fall madly in love b. become implicated in a tangle of double-crossing time travellers c. start worrying like heck about the fact that the future seems to be disappearing....
Most important questions (for me as a reader)--is Nick likable,
believable in his motivations, and interesting? Are the time travelling
complications of his life fully considered in creating his character?
Main female character: Julia, the grand-daughter of 18th-century nobleman who kicks the bucket almost immediately, leaving her at the mercy of a nasty cousin. Julia's grandfather was able to do tricks with time...and the cousin wants to find out the secret to how he did it.
When Nick comes home, Julia is saved, but ends up trying to figure out just what the heck is going on with all this time travel business. And it turns out that Julia can do a few interesting things with time herself, making her Important to a lot of people (once they start figuring things out).
And Julia also can do interesting things with Nick, which they both enjoy.
Most important questions (for me as a reader)--is Julia likable,
believable in her motivations, and interesting? Is she a believable 18th-century heroine?
Answer: mostly although because of her eccentric up-bringing, she's not exactly typical...though she is perhaps too quick to yield to passion, I thought her impressions of it all were rather well done...
Other Characters: An interesting, and wildly varied supporting cast from a generous number of periods and places adds to the reading
experience. Even the small characters, who only get a paragraph or two,
are fun-- I particularly liked Meg, elderly escapee from the Irish potato famine who ends up in a happy lesbian relationship in Brazil.
The Time Travel: I'm not entirely sure just what was going on with all the time travel difficulties everyone ends up being worried about. It ends at a good stopping point, but I think there is going to have to be more to come, in which we explore the mechanics of time travel, Julia's abilities, and find out if the future can be saved.
Lots of metaphoric time as river flowing to the sea (like the book title); there are few answers, yet one does not drown in confusion.
Final Answer: I'm glad I read it; I'll definitely read the second one. If I'd read it as a teen there would have been three pages I would have read over and over again while swooning.
Non-Review related Question: if you find out very near the end that a main character in a book might well not actually be entirely a white European, and might actually have a parent who came from pre-contact Mesoamerica (I think), can one then count the book as a "reading in color" book?
Answer: I don't think one can list it in one's Multicultural Sci fi/Fantasy list, because of the reader not actually knowing for most of the book. But the sequel might well count. And having raised the issue, one can put a "reading in color" tag on the post, just as a little flag...especially since there are non-white members of the supporting cast, who we will hopefully get to see more of.