WHAT THE RIVER KNOWS, by Isabel Ibañez, Wednesday Books, Oct. 31, 2023, Hardcover, $20 (young adult)
A young woman travels to Egypt to uncover the mystery of her parents’ deaths in What the River Knows, a historical fantasy by Isabel Ibañez.
Bolivian-Argentinian Inez Olivera belongs to the glittering upper society of 19th century Buenos Aires, and like the rest of the world, the town is steeped in old world magic that’s been largely left behind or forgotten. Inez has everything a girl might want, except for the one thing she yearns the most: her globetrotting parents―who frequently leave her behind.
When she receives word of their tragic deaths, Inez inherits their massive fortune and a mysterious guardian, an archeologist in partnership with his Egyptian brother-in-law. Yearning for answers, Inez sails to Cairo, bringing her sketch pads and a golden ring her father sent to her for safekeeping before he died. But upon her arrival, the old world magic tethered to the ring pulls her down a path where she soon discovers there’s more to her parent’s disappearance than what her guardian led her to believe.
With her guardian’s infuriatingly handsome assistant thwarting her at every turn, Inez must rely on ancient magic to uncover the truth about her parent’s disappearance―or risk becoming a pawn in a larger game that will kill her.
What the River Knows is the first book in the Secrets of the Nile duology. —Synopsis provided by Wednesday Books
What the River Knows is a mystery, fantasy and romance all packaged together with a historical fiction framework.
The story is told mostly from one point of view — Inez. However, her uncle’s assistant, Whit, gets a few chapters — interspersed throughout the novel — of his own.
Inez is a young woman trapped by society’s dictates. She’s supposed to be a poised young woman with every hair in place. She’s supposed to marry well and take her place in society. But she’s not. Inez is an artist who is full of curiosity. She’s smart and independent and knows her own mind. She’s stubborn and full of fire, and is able to think on her feet.
While Inez is an open book, Whit is an enigma. He’s never what he seems and will keep readers guessing until the last page. Even as she begins to fall for Whit, she can’t quite figure out “who” he his. An ex-soldier, Whit is strong and handsome and he knows his way around explosive situations. He’s drawn to Inez, but tries to keep his distance.
The push and pull between Inez and Whit is fun to read, and their playful banter adds a lightness to the novel overall. But the real star of the show is Egypt.
Author Isabel Ibañez’s ability to transport readers to 19th century Egypt is commendable. All five senses are awakened by her scene building. You really feel as if you’re walking through the bazar, eating the sweets, floating on the Nile and entering ancient Egyptian ruins.
And then there’s Cleopatra. Ibañez makes you feel as if the last pharaoh of Egypt is sitting right in front of you. In Ibañez’s world, the magical elements that bring Cleopatra to life feel right and real.
What the River Knows is an immersive read with a few twists you’ll see coming and a whole bunch that will knock you off your seat. With a beautiful cover and magical mystery, this historical romance is the whole package. I can’t wait to read its sequel.
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