“1812: On a lonely battlefield in Spain, Lord Nicholas Falcott, Marquess of Blackdown, is about to die… But, the next moment, he inexplicably jumps forward in time, nearly two hundred years – very much alive. Taken under the wing of a mysterious organisation, The Guild, he receives everything he could ever need under the following conditions: He can’t go back. He can’t go home. He must tell no one. Accepting his fate, Nicholas begins a life of luxury as a twenty-first century New York socialite, living happily thus for the next ten years. But, when an exquisite wax sealed envelope brings a summons from the Alderwoman of The Guild, Nicholas is forced to confront his nineteenth century past…”
While I was racing through this book, my stepmum read the front cover. “A story of love and time travel,” she said. “Not really my kind of thing.” “But it’s so much more than that,” I said. And it really, really is. That tagline does not do this book justice; it’s a compelling, clever read, intricately woven with historical elements. It’s been compared to Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife, another book I loved, but I found the two books entirely dissimilar. Whilst Niffenegger’s novel strikes me primarily as a love story, The River of No Return is a historical thriller, verging at times on ethical debate.
The story starts with Nicolas Falcott, the Marquess of the wealthy Blackdown estate, who is about to die on a battlefield in Spain – until he suddenly jumps forward into the future. There he becomes part of The Guild, a secret organisation that aims to unite Nicholas and all of his fellow accidental time travellers, assisting their assimilation into today’s society and funding their lifestyle. They have only 3 rules: there is no return, tell no-one, uphold the rules. And Nicholas obeys all of these three for 10 years, until he is summoned by The Guild to go against the first rule: to travel back in time, to the estate he left behind. His task is to stop the Ofan – a group of rival time travellers who seek to manipulate the unstoppable River of Time and spread knowledge about it.
But going the past isn’t as familiar as Nick would have imagined. Returning back to his rightful time is awkward and difficult, and although he is reunited with Julia Percy, a mysterious, beautiful girl he’s never been able to forget, what he discovers back in the 1800s snowballs into a huge riddle of wrong and right, discovery and concealment, good and bad. Caught in a war waged between two sides, Nicholas must unravel the mystery and choose which side he is on.
His narrative intersects with that of Julia Percy, who has been struggling since the death of her beloved grandfather and the subsequent arrival of her odious cousin, who is to inherit the state. Julia must be meek, unassuming, and has to keep doing what spent her life pretending, and covering up the truth: that her grandfather could manipulate time. But when her cousin, who guessed this trick along time ago, discovers the truth, he demands to learn how himself. A hunt for a ‘talisman’ – which he thinks will bring him this power – turns into Julia’s realisation that she has been the one manipulating time all along – not her grandfather. When Nick returns to the Blackdown estate, he learns of Julia’s troubles and rescues her, so that she can escape her cousin’s clutches and stay with the Falcott family. And thus their stories, and fates, collide…
The River of No Return is an intriguing, cleverly crafted novel that can simply not be contained within the ‘time travel’ and ‘romance’ genres. Gorgeously designed and bound, it’s every bit as beautiful on the outside as it is in – a fascinating, intelligent work of contemporary fiction shot through with intricate historical detail which brings great depth to the book. I’d like to congratulate Bee on a impressive and stunning debut; I am already eagerly anticipating her next book.
Many thanks to Michael Joseph for the review copy.