Title: The River of No Return
Author: Bee Ridgway
No. of Pages: 464
Genre: Science Fiction, Historical Fiction
Origins: Dutton Books
Bottom Line: Excellent and fun genre-busting time travel/historical fiction/thriller.
“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.”
Thoughts: Time travel is something that has fascinated scientists and non-scientists alike for centuries. Bee Ridgway uses this fascination in The River of No Return. In her story, time travel is an innate skill accessible by only a select few. An entire organization called the Guild exists to help those who make the jump and to monitor the “river of time”. Nick Falcott is one such jumper, discovered after he jumps from a battlefield in 1812 to two hundred years into the future. Comfortable in his new life, the Guild soon calls on him for help and the chance to jump back to 1815, three years after he was given up for dead by all those who know him. This jump also leads him back to his mysterious brown-eyed girl and neighbor, Julia, for whom his longing has only increased over the years. Once back, Nick finds himself embroiled in a situation for stickier than what was initially explained to him, and as his past and his future collide, both Julia and he must navigate their way to the truth if they ever hope to save the future of mankind.
Perhaps it is an incorrect interpretation on this reader’s part, but one cannot help but feel that Ms. Ridgway is ever so slightly mocking the same genre into which The River of No Return falls. There is nothing overt about this subtle sarcasm, but it is more of a gut feel that comes from reflection. The story has an earnestness and urgency to it that only makes sense when one considers it as satirical in nature. It is as if Ms. Ridgway is poking fun at the game-changing cliffhanger ending, the serious and uber-manly male lead, the beautiful, intelligent, and spirited female lead, the bad guys posing as good guys, and all of the other plot devices used by the genre. Ms. Ridgway knows her story is not meant to be life-altering, and so she has fun with it. The fact that Ms. Ridgway gives readers permission to not take the narrative too seriously only serves to increase a reader’s enjoyment and relish the clichés she uses throughout the story.
There is something about The River of No Return that makes it highly enjoyable in spite of its flaws. The time travel elements and their explanations are weak on science and long on wishful thinking, while the characters barely expand beyond a character sketch. The world-building is confusing at times, the plot flows at a feverish pace, some of the connections are predictable, and a reader gathers more questions than answers. Yet – and this is a big yet – the story is compulsively enjoyable. The River of No Return is one of those novels that is meant to be enjoyed for what it is – a science fiction/historical fiction/thriller crossover meant to entertain rather than educate – and entertain it does. It is as if the entire stories revels in its familiarity to similar and very popular stories, while at the same time one knows instinctively that one should not take the story seriously. It is like a summer rom com with more gravitas. Readers can sit back and appreciate the fun world created by Ms. Ridgway and appreciate it they should.