Series: Elements of Cadence #1
House of Earth and Blood meets The Witch’s Heart in Rebecca Ross’s brilliant first adult fantasy, set on the magical isle of Cadence where two childhood enemies must team up to discover why girls are going missing from their clan.
Jack Tamerlaine hasn’t stepped foot on Cadence in ten long years, content to study music at the mainland university. But when young girls start disappearing from the isle, Jack is summoned home to help find them. Enchantments run deep on Cadence: gossip is carried by the wind, plaid shawls can be as strong as armor, and the smallest cut of a knife can instill fathomless fear. The capricious spirits that rule the isle by fire, water, earth, and wind find mirth in the lives of the humans who call the land home. Adaira, heiress of the east and Jack’s childhood enemy, knows the spirits only answer to a bard’s music, and she hopes Jack can draw them forth by song, enticing them to return the missing girls.
As Jack and Adaira reluctantly work together, they find they make better allies than rivals as their partnership turns into something more. But with each passing song, it becomes apparent the trouble with the spirits is far more sinister than they first expected, and an older, darker secret about Cadence lurks beneath the surface, threatening to undo them all.
With unforgettable characters, a fast-paced plot, and compelling world building, A River Enchanted is a stirring story of duty, love, and the power of true partnership, and marks Rebecca Ross’s brilliant entry on the adult fantasy stage.
If I could use one word to describe A River Enchanted, it would be this: folklore. Cue the Taylor Swift music, please.
Although the synopsis makes it sound like there are only 2 protagonists, in reality, we follow 4 individuals pretty equally. This is Rebecca Ross’ foray into adult literature and I wasn’t sure at first what to expect from that. I love her YA fantasies so I hoped it would still be in the same vein but perhaps with different themes.
And boy, it was an interesting read indeed. I will quickly break down a couple of my thoughts that overall led to my rating.
Fortunately for me, the writing was just the way I remember it being in Rebecca’s YA novels, so if you fell in love with her writing in her past titles, this one’s still got it and more.
The prose was so descriptive and lush that it really brought forth this magical isle full of different spirits and the people who inhabit it. You can also tell that the author did her research because the language she uses, especially certain vocabulary, is definitely not what we would regularly in modern times. It fit the feel of the world, something separate from what we know here and now, and reminiscent of the Scottish wilds.
In this way, I was really drawn into the story and the characters, which is what I will talk about next.
MCs and their unique characterizations
From the 2 MCs I thought we would follow, it became 4, and I loved it even more that way. Jack and Adaira were childhood rivals and that tension was still somewhat there upon Jack’s return to the isle after a decade away on the mainland. These two are in their early twenties but I can see the influence of the YA tropes in their story. They felt younger and worried more about their relationship and their future in the clan.
On the other hand, Torin and Sidra (in their later twenties or early thirties I believe) really made the story fit into the adult genre more. I actually loved their romance more than Jack and Adaira’s. They wed it seemed out of convenience when Torin’s first wife died, but it didn’t necessarily mean there was love between them. Their worries focused on Torin’s young daughter with his first wife, a particularly important worry as the isle has been losing their young girls recently, a point I’ll get back to later.
While I’m normally a HUGE lover of all the teen tropes and coming of age stories, I rather enjoyed the other themes drawn into the book because we have a range of protagonists. Each voice was unique as each individual struggled with different things. Jack never belonged on the isle, even more so after his absence for so long, and he fought his insecurities all the time. Adaira had the weight of the clan on her shoulders as the heiress, and fought to do what was right by them at even her own personal cost.
Torin struggled to keep his family a priority while also sacrificing so much of himself to keep the entire clan safe from their rival clan across the border. There was a lot of guilt hanging over him and it was an interesting exploration. Lastly, Sidra was probably my favourite character and brought the struggle of faith to the forefront as it seemed the spirits she believed in her whole life, especially for her healing abilities, were letting her down with the loss of each girl.
When I think of adult books, I still want to know the characters instead of just stereotypes. I definitely feel Rebecca carries this in her writing regardless of genre and I’m so grateful for that.
Plot and its downfalls
So why wasn’t this a 5 star read like the last book I read from Rebecca Ross?
Simple. It really ends up at the plot. This is a fantasy book and they’re generally plot-driven. Preferably, the best kinds are balanced with plot and character, and the character component in this book I have already extolled as great.
The plot wasn’t complex, although I did enjoy the mysteries surrounding the missing girls. I loved the world building, don’t get me wrong, and I never felt like a load of information dump was placed on me at any time. Everything felt organic.
It just came about really slow. Essentially, Jack and Adaira attempt maybe 3 things to get a lead on who was stealing the girls, but it’s split apart by a lot of talking. Of course, this lends to the character building but it just didn’t move things along very well.
Likewise, Torin does a lot of searching the entire lands but all it leads to is more questions and some off-shoot tidbits that MAY lead somewhere in the next book. Can a girl just ask for a little more speed?
That’s not to say that the entire plot was bad. It definitely wasn’t, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong about a simple main plot line. I did like the “twists” that came about near the end with secrets starting to unfold. I’m super excited for book 2 to come out to see where it all goes, but as a book within itself, I feel the plot may lose people at times as our 4 MCs meander their way to solving the mystery.
A River Enchanted marks an excellent adult fantasy debut for Rebecca Ross with its lush storytelling and world building that draws you into this magical isle filled with spirits living among the inhabitants. I was definitely not disappointed to see such amazing characterizations of not 2, but in fact 4, protagonists as they navigate the disappearance of several young girls from their clan. It’s part mystery and part folklore awe that drives you to continue reading, although the pacing was rather slow for a good portion of it. If you can stick through the slower bits, which on the other hand allows for excellent character building, this story delivers a fascinating tale of rival clans, magic that harnesses the spirits, and relationships running deeper than blood.