Book Review: The Chronicle of Secret Riven
One thousand years after a great conflict known as The Mapmaker’s War, a daughter is born to an ambitious historian and a gifted translator. Secret Riven doesn’t speak until her seventh year but can mysteriously communicate with plants and animals. Unsettled by visions and dreams since childhood, she tries to hide her strangeness, especially from her mercurial father and cold mother. Yet gentle, watchful Secret finds acceptance from Prince Nikolas, her best friend, and Old Woman, who lives in the distant woods. When Secret is twelve, her mother receives an arcane manuscript to translate from an anonymous owner. Zavet suffers from nightmares and withdraws into herself. Secret sickens with a fever and awakens able to speak an ancient language, one her mother knows as well. Years later, Secret becomes a translator’s apprentice for Fewmany, an influential magnate, who has taken an interest in her for reasons she cannot discern. Before Secret learns why, Old Woman confronts Secret with the truth of her destiny—a choice she must make that is tied to an ancient past.
Last year, we stumbled on a gem of a book find – The Mapmaker’s War by Ronlyn Domingue. We fell in love with this unique story and strong female lead. On May 20, Domingue is back with her follow up: The Chronicle of Secret Riven. We received an advance copy and quickly dove right back in to this beautiful fantasy world.
ashley | While this story is the next in the series, it is clear right from the start that there are some drastic differences from its predecessor. First of all, this is not written in the unique second person voice of The Mapmaker’s War, which was a very original component to the first book. Secondly, this is a book about Secret Riven, not the heroine from the original, a whole new entity in a whole new time that we get to know (and hopefully love). Neither of these things are bad, it’s just that the loose connection is a little unexpected for a series. But that unexpectedness is what we’ve come to expect from Domingue and why she is quickly becoming one of our favourite authors.
In place of the edgy second person voice, Domingue implements a new element this time around to challenge the imagination. To set the scene before each chapter, she pulls the reader right into her world. She describes the surroundings as if I, the reader, am actually standing there looking around and relays the play by play of my movements as she brings me to the point that the chapter will pick up from. It’s a creative introduction, a way to really immerse the reader in the story. To me, it felt like a role-play video game along the lines of Fable. Like I am looking out of a character’s eyes and seeing this imaginative world forming around me as the result of the vivid descriptive. And then the scene zooms out and I’m back to witnessing these other characters go about their journey. How often, as adults, do we get to exercise this kind of imagination on a daily basis? It’s beautiful.
Domingue is proving herself an authentic story teller. The themes of tales, myths and legends are woven throughout this book, but it’s almost as if she’s redefining these elements with her own voice. With The Chronicle of Secret Riven, Domingue has created one of the most exquisite worlds I have ever encountered. With magical gifts, unexplainable silences, mysterious manuscripts and a strong willed, silver-haired heroine at the forefront, it was hard not to lose myself in the crescendo that builds and builds towards the ultimate knowledge of one’s destiny.
Of course, this is the point in which this story pauses (and the book ends), leaving me teetering on the edge of finally uncovering the mysterious lore that’s been bubbling in front of me. It’s frustrating, like a lingering thought, like something is on the tip of my tongue but I can’t quite grasp it. But it was the perfect place to pause and collect myself, treasuring what I just read because, as it’s been made clear, a change wishes to know its course and there’s no turning back.
I did come to love Secret Riven, there’s no way to avoid that. She is ambitious and strong, carrying a world on her shoulders that she doesn’t quite understand. Though she’s often alone, the friendships she does build – like that with Prince Nikolas and her complicated relationship with the Old Woman – are those rare connections I don’t see enough of in books. Despite all her hardships, she manages to push herself through each day and miraculously comes out unscathed. I can tell she’s destined for something great and I can’t wait to unravel what that is.
The Chronicle of Secret Riven hit stores May 20.