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Synopsis: “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.
The River of No Return is Bee Ridgway’s debut novel and what a spectacular book it is! It’s a mixture of time travel with historical elements. Fans of early 19th century England will be in for a real treat as Ridgway does a superb job with the research and it’s easy to immerse yourself in the era. Readers will be left questioning time and how it coincides with our own emotions. I have no doubt that by the end of the book you’ll be looking at time a little differently.
Ten years ago, Lord Nicholas Falcott, Marquess of Blackdown was fighting in one of the bloodiest sieges of the Napoleonic Wars, Badajoz. Facing death at the hands of a Frenchman, Nick suddenly finds himself waking up in a hospital room in 2003 instead of 1812. He’s told about the Guild, a mysterious entity that controls time and he’s informed there’s no going back to one’s time period. Nick is set up to live in the modern world and he quietly accepts his fate despite longing for his era. Reluctantly Nick answers the Guild’s summons where he’s notified they need him to return to 1815 to find the Talisman. He’s confused since he would be breaking a sacred Guild rule: there’s no return. Meanwhile in 1815, Julia Percy is living with the monster of her cousin Eamon, who is now the Earl of Darchester. She harbors a secret, her grandfather could manipulate time and Eamon is looking for the Talisman because he believes it would help advance his nefarious plans. Julia is held prisoner against her will and when Nick comes face to face with Julia, he’s shocked that the girl who helped carry him through war is at arm’s length. Will Nick be able to fulfill the job he needs for the Guild or will he abandon the mission to be with the woman he’s never forgotten and loves?
As for characterization, a few secondary characters will capture your interest. Arkady, the time traveling Russian will leave you intrigued and no doubt will become a favorite character. He’s still morning the loss of his child and it’s easy to sympathize with him and his hatred for the Ofan. I can’t wait to read his reaction to the news of who Julia really is and at yet at the same time, I worry for those who know of her true identity. Don’t want to be in caught in Arkady’s wrath! Then there’s the mysterious Mr. Mibbs. I have an idea of who he really is, but I don’t want to make any assumptions before I read the rest in the series. You’ll be left with questions regarding Jem Jemison and I believe there’s more to him than meets the eye. Finally, there’s Alva, an Ofan, who talks to Nick about the Guild and is eager to tell him the truth; however, we have to ask, do we trust what she says? More importantly can Nick? A few times I was frustrated for Nick. I can’t imagine being put in the situation he’s in and not told the entire truth regarding both the Guild and the Ofan. The moment when he meets with the Alderman of the 19th century, I felt he was Keanu Reeves in the Matrix when Morpheus shows Neo the pills and asks him to pick the red or blue. It’s a power struggle as to who to believe. I’m heartbroken for Nick because he’s not given the information he needs, but at the same time I realize the Guild’s insistence on keeping things secret. I’m curious to know dear reader, which team you’ll be on: Team Guild or Team Ofan.
The writing is beautiful and Ridgway does a terrific job using 19th century language alongside modern language. One of my pet peeves with historical fiction is language that sounds too modern and yet Ridgway gives a balance of the two. When Nick calls his sister, Clare, “kid,” she asks what that is and he’s quick to cover his use and invents a reason as to why he chose the word. One of my favorite scenes is Nick prepping for his return to the 19th century with Arkady and both are sitting in modern London. Nick complains that he doesn’t need lessons on how to be a gentleman and yet when he’s confronted with Clare for the first time, he realizes he isn’t the man he was. Ridgway also incorporates humor throughout. I adored the scene with Arkady asking Clare if she knows French because it keeps Russian wolves away.
What I really enjoyed about The River of No Return is that it’s thought provoking. Here we have a river of time that is fed by our emotions. Nick comes to our modern world when he’s a 19th century gentleman. I can’t imagine the shock at learning about technological advances and how social customs have changed. You would think it would be easy to fall back into familiar ways especially when you’re in the era you belong, but the way Ridgway handles Nick’s transformation is exceptional. Nick believes he can fall into his old self easily, but he struggles especially when he is confronted with his sister’s plans for Falcott House. Here he becomes the Marquess he was he born to be and yet he realizes that everything would be easier if women had a voice and fought for it. There are a few times he makes note about women having to free themselves and for the time period, it’s an outrageous comment. Nick is not only confronted with social change, but political too. He knows he can’t change history. For example, you can’t travel to kill Hitler or change the course of the Second World War. And yet Ridgway brings up an interesting point regarding Hitler. Arkady brings it up by saying, “Why when we talk about time travel do we always have to kill Hitler or not kill Hitler! It is to make Hitler a commonplace.” Knowing the political climate, Nick enters a turbulent time in England. The Napoleonic Wars ended a year before in 1814 and England is about to introduce the Importation Act 1815 (also known as the Corn Laws). He’s aware of the implications of the law, but he knows this from a modern study of history. When he’s forced to address the House of Lords and give his speech in support of the law, it weighs heavily on him. No doubt 19th century Nick, had he not time traveled, would have voted a particular way. There’s a difference between the man he was and the man he’s become. High-five to Ridgway for addressing these issues.
A note on the romance, I know there are some readers who are disappointed at the romance between Nick and Julia. Some feel cheated that Ridgway included it, but this is Nick and Julia’s story. You’ll come to realize what Julia means to Nick prior to him leaving for war and even during war she was an important fixture. In many ways, their fate is tied together. I won’t say exactly what it is, but it’s a beautiful love story. Once you find out Julia’s role, you’ll see how everything comes together.
“What am I suppose to do? Lie back and think of England?”
“We are cowards, really, we time travelers. We cheat death over and over. Jumping away from one story into another. Always pursuing the hope of another day.”
It’s been a long time since a book made me want to peek at the upcoming chapters and The River of No Return had me spellbound. I had to restrain myself and forced myself to read a few chapters a day, otherwise I would have read it one sitting. It’s rare for me for to want to reread a book so quickly, but I can’t let go of Nick. I adore him and I can’t wait to read the next in the series. The only complaint I have is waiting for the second book.