Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Book Review: The Way of the River

The Way of the River 
by Shan L. Spyker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This independently published middle grade book is quite the adventure! With a large cast of boys, girls, and animals to adore. While the introduction was a bit slow and disjointed for me, The Way of the River more than makes up for it with it's evil circus ringmaster/owner and his minions whom are awful to both humans and animals alike. Add in a big dose of talking animals from a magical forest, healing water, mystical powers, and some good ol' sibling rivalry; and you've got yourself the recipe for Shan Spyker's debut novel (and first in a series).

Normally I would put this at the end of my review. But in this case I think it's important I be really upfront. I know Shan Spyker. I donated to her Kickstarter for this novel, and am thanked in the book's liner notes (which is super cool for me!). So this review does need to be taken as it is. I've tried to be as honest and up-front as always; but I will confess it is possible that I've given Spyker more room for improvement and less critical comments than I might another debut author. The Way of the River is not without its faults (as you will read below) but overall I am super proud to say I had a teeny tiny piece in getting it to it's audience and have proudly gifted copies to all the little kiddos in my life.

It's an Indie Book
As always I think it's important to note this is an indie book. No big publishing house editor looked at it, critiqued it, or edited out the typos. So there are some to be stumbled over. I've let Spyker know of my list so that she can fix them up for the eBook, or a second edition publication.
Additionally I found a few points in the book to be quite weak. Sadly the introduction is one of them. For the first 50 pages or so I had a hard time figuring out if Kellandale Wood was supposed to be on Earth, or in another magical realm or planet. For the record it's in another land. Adding to this was my confusion about timeline. There is mention of events from hundreds of years before; but no real mention of 'today's' timeline. This also added to my confusion on if we were supposed to be in today's world and timeline or not. When you say things like 100 years ago, it makes more sense if I have a basis for what the present day looks like. In this case we do not.
Once I got over my time and place issues I then had to contend with large jumps in the timeline for our main characters, the kids. There are times where a few weeks go by, a day or two, and then months at once. While Spyker does a decent job of ensuring we are aware of when we are, it does feel a little leap froggy to me and made my head spin once or twice to keep track of when we were in the current storyline.
These are all critiques that are standard fare for an indie book; but are still elements that do bring the enjoyment down for many readers.

The Narration
Minus our introductory elements discussed above, the narration in The Way of the River is fabulous! I mean really, truly strong. I felt like I was in a movie at moments when our kids are infiltrating the circus and I felt the change in points of view was done gracefully as the narration is clear on who is speaking or thinking at any given moment. Spyker is a talented action writer. Many middle grade and young adult authors struggle with this. They do well at the editorializing and info-dump; but fail in creating truly captivating action. Not so for Spyker. I would compare the action here to recent debut YA author Tomi Adeyemi; whose overall first novel I wasn't a huge fan of but there was no discounting her ability to write some engrossing action scenes. Spyker fits well into this same category. The action and plot are not at all a problem. Some of the finer details about the magic, time, and place are needed to really bring this to the next level.

I know it's not right... but this nearly 40-year-old woman (yes that's me) loves Alister. I mean adores him more than any adult should fan-girl over a teenage boy. This is unusual as it's often a girl I am most drawn to in MG/YA books; but here it was Alister. His adoration of the circus animals, cunning and swift thought process; plus the fact that he's young and quick all contributed to me loving every moment his name came up on the page. But don't worry there are two young girls to adore here, including the adorable Tillie that most girls under 10 are likely to want to be, the older Elinore that reminded me of Susan from Narnia (a bit stoic and definitely in-charge), and then the other boys/cousins that are around. One thing I lament is that I lost track of Tillie's BFF at some point near the end and I'm not sure what happens to her. I hope this comes back around in book 2. Or I need to reread the story as maybe I simply missed her role in our exciting climax. In fairness there are a lot of characters to keep track of.

I wanted to love this book. I really did. And I have to say after a rocky start I'm happy to recommend it as a great debut novel. You need to know what you are getting into, as per my Indie Book section written above; but if you want to treat yourself (or a child you know) to a story that is very exciting, has lots of characters (and animals!) to love; and is quite magical then you cannot go wrong with The Way of the River. I know Spyker is planning (hopefully writing currently!) the second installment. One warning this book does not have a wrap it all up in a bow ending. We have resolution for some of our characters but not all (including my boy Alister!). So be prepared to want the next book immediately!

My huge thanks to Spyker for allowing me to be a part of her journey and donate to her Kickstarter. And for putting my name in her liner notes! This is hugely exciting to me and as a lover and reviewer of books I'm proud to say I had one of the first copies in my hand.

Order a copy on Amazon or at the author's website:

1 comment:

Leonore Winterer said...

This one sounds fun, I'll have to keep my eyes open for it! And how exciting it must be to see your name in there!