I really enjoyed Isabel Ibañez’ writing style in her previous books and I got so excited when I saw that she was writing something featuring ancient Egypt. What the River Knows intrigued me from the first time my friend told me about it. I mean, it’s Egypt. And I studied egyptology and it’s always hard to find good books about it. So I had very high hopes for What the River Knows. Continue reading to find out if they were met.
Bolivian-Argentinian Inez Olivera belongs to the glittering upper society of nineteenth 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 for the her globetrotting parents – who frequently leave her behind when they venture off on their exploring adventures.
When she receives word of their tragic deaths, Inez inherits their massive fortune and a mysterious guardian, an archaeologist in partnership with his Egyptian brother-in-law. Yearning for answers, Inez sails to Cairo, bringing her sketch pads and an ancient 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.
Book: What the River Knows | Author: Isabel Ibañez | Publisher: Hodderscape | Release Date: 14.11.2023 | Genre: historical fantasy | Pages: 416 | Rep: Bolivian-Argentinian MC & side characters, Egyptian side characters | TW: loss of loved ones, death, racism, colonialism and its direct effects
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*
Oh well, oh well. I am so conflicted about this book. There were quite a few things I truly enjoyed but unfortunately, there was also a lot I didn’t. So, let’s see.
- Cleopatra wasn’t really characterized. She remains a somewhat mystical figure throughout the story, mostly present in her magic, in smells and sounds and emotions. Her looks are never described in detail. I liked that Ibañez didn’t just make her own picture of Cleopatra but let her remain mysterious and unkowable, a figure from ancient times.
- I really liked how Inez was written. She’s smart and bold, yet still young, trusting and naive. During the book she goes through grief and love, travels to an unknown country, meets many people and dangers, hops from stressful situation to stressful situation and I liked how she gets through it all with mostly her wit, daring to try something new, just daring. And her verbal comebacks? Amazing.
- What I truly liked was how colonialism and imperialism in Egypt at the end of the 19th century is written. It seeps into every aspect of the story and affects the characters. I also liked that the author included real historical people here. Thanks to studying egyptology and reading (European) correspondence from that time, I can say that the research was well done and well incorporated into the story. I also liked the contrasts between the digging crews in this context!
- I absolutely loved the descriptions of both 19th century Egypt and ancient Egypt, the old relics and the modern bustle, the mysteries and the Nile. The whole book was very atmospheric, perfectly capturing the desert and the Nile valley and the people there.
- The whole search for Cleopatra. Yes, I understand why she is an important figure. But why is she so incredibly important for the story? I couldn’t really get behind the obsession with her. Is it only because of her magic? Or what she meant for Egypt, Greece and Rome? I also didn’t really find the place where her tomb is supposed to be very plausible. I just don’t really understand why. It makes no sense for it to be there. Or did I miss something?
- I didn’t really understand the magic and the magic system. So there’s ancient magic that still sometimes reaches into the present? But how? Is it extinct? Who could wield it? How does it echo in artifacts? I think the magic was more confusing than anything else.
- If I don’t like one trope, it’s the miscommunication trope. And this story was miscommunication galore. So much of what happened could have been prevented if people just spoke with each other for once. Inez even says so at one point but she is still made out to be the bad girl here. She’s still the one apologizing and getting no apology in return. Yes, I understand the whole thing with secrets and trusts but… my god. You could have avoided so many bad things by just opening your mouth for once. Ugh.
- I did root for the romance, initially. But again: miscommunication. Or, no communication at all. Everytime I thought Inez and Whit were getting somewhere, there was some kind of setback. I’m also not sure what to think of Whit, he’s a complex character with many secrets he apparently keeps with Inez’ uncle and nobody else. I liked him less and less the further the story progressed.
What the River Knows is an interesting and adventurous novel with some ups and downs that has a wonderfully written main character, is incredibly atmospheric, yet lacks when it comes to the other characters. I hoped for a lot more, and unfortunately my expectations weren’t fully met. I’ll still read on and hope to get some clarity.
YOU MIGHT ENJOY WHAT THE RIVER KNOWS IF YOU LIKE…
ancient Egypt | adventure | complex families | a bold and daring MC | secrets and mysteries | treasure hunts | the Mummy films
Do you enjoy historical fantasy? Or historical fiction? What time period do you want to read more about? Have you ever had an ancient Egypt phase?
Until next time,