Colleen Mondor Reviews A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross

A River Enchanted, Rebecca Ross (Harper Voyager 978-1-250-81107-3, $27.99, hc, 480pp) February 2022.

In Rebecca Ross’s enthralling mystery/fan­tasy/drama/romance, A River Enchanted, Jack Tamerlaine is called home to the island of Cadence for reasons he does not understand. Steeped in the magic of the spirits who reside on the land and in the water surrounding the is­land, Cadence is also in the midst of a long-term conflict between the two clans, the Tamerlaines and Breccans, who live there. The war’s origins are buried in legend and song, but the end result is deep distrust, resulting in occasional cross border raids and murder. Jack has been away for years on the mainland, studying music, and had no intention of returning. Then his laird sends a message he cannot ignore, and he finds himself in the middle of a mess that threatens everything and everyone he holds dear.

A River Enchanted reads very much like a fantasy, and although there are many similarities to Scottish history (clans, lairds, plaids, music), the inclusion of capricious spirits certainly wrenches the novel from any sort of historical novel comparison. A mystery aspect comes into play when Jack learns that some Tamerlaine children, all girls, have been kidnapped and pos­sibly killed. Everyone in his clan suspects the Breccans, although if this is true it would be a horrifying escalation. The disappearances are at the root of why Jack has been called home – to serve as bard and perform special songs that will initiate communication with the spirits who might have information about the missing girls. It is the laird’s daughter, Adaira, who believes the answer lies with them, and Adaira is the one who insists Jack help. His feelings for her are complicated by some ugly childhood moments, but they get past that and work together to solve the crime. At the same time, Adaira’s cousin Torin, and his wife, Sidra, grapple with problems of their own that soon become engulfed by the larger mystery. The narrative moves forward between all four of these characters, each making their own discoveries and sharing 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 great book (and it really is wonderful!) is because Ross treats the mystery of the missing girls with respect. This is not just some plot device created to throw various characters together, it really is a puzzle that must be solved in a traditional crime solving manner. While Jack is the novel’s protagonist, everyone else has crucial parts to play in getting to the truth, and Torin and Sidra in particular are compelling supporting characters who enrich the overall story tremendously. 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 relish thoughtful world building and conflicted characters. Some classic power politics can be found here, as well as light romance, but mostly it is the mystery that draws you in. Have no fear that the novel strays into serial killer territory, however; that’s not what Ross is about. This is an author who wants to explore the lingering impact of old stories and consider how magic can fuel conflict. She is a curious writer with a talent for imbuing a landscape with smart 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 until the very end.

Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website:

This review and more like it in the June 2022 issue of Locus.

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