The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

I honestly have no recollection as to when or how The River of No Return got on my TBR. This happens fairly frequently but every single time this happens it feels like the Book Gods have descended from on high and mysteriously added books to my TBR in the night, knowing I’d enjoy them whenever I get around to picking it out of the hundreds. And upon reading the summary of River of No Return, I quickly figured out why the Mysterious Book Gods picked this one for me. Secret Time Travel organizations and a historical fiction love story where the characters both have interesting time travel powers?? Yes, please! Thank you, Mysterious Book Gods!

The year is 1815 and Nicholas Falcott, Marquess of Blackdown, is about to be killed on the battlefield. The next thing he knows the year is 2003 and he’s run over by a car. Such is life. From there he is taken in by The Guild, a secret organization of time travelers who find individuals who have jumped through time and offer them an education and place in society. But, as always, there are rules. 1. There is no return (original time) 2. There is no return (location) 3. You cannot tell anyone 4. You cannot break the rules. And with any secret organization of time travelers, opposing forces lurk in the shadows and the Guild might not be as altruistic as they seem…

Meanwhile, back in 1815, Julia Percy is mourning the death of her grandfather. Her cousin, Earl Eamon, is waging a mental war on her, keeping her locked away in what was once her home. The late Earl, you see, could manipulate time, stopping it for himself and young Julia, and the new Earl wants that power for himself. And so Julia has to figure out how to escape her confinement while also keeping her own connection to the stoppage of time a secret.

Much like time travel itself, The River of No Return is full of contractions. Spanning across multiple genres—historical romance and time travel futuristic thriller—the book struggles with how to balance its stakes. On the one hand, we have overarching time travel plot! The future itself is in grave danger and our secret organization of people pulled out of time must go on undercover missions in the past to solve it! On the other hand, we have Regency era romance where we must worry about the reputations of fair ladies and chaperones and what will the Earl of Dorchester think about how we’re planning to vote in Parliament on the corn bill?!

It’s a rather sharp contrast of motivations.

And it’s not that I dislike either of these storylines or feel that they are completely alien from each other. The fact that our two romantic leads are both from the same time period originally but have encountered the movement of time differently is an interesting dynamic that lets us avoid a lot of the cultural difference misunderstanding that plague the time travel romance sub genre. But with any book that has two or more equally held plotlines, I found myself caring much more about one over the other and why should I care that Nick’s sister is a spurned spinster at twenty-five when the future is literally falling in on itself?

Thankfully, the plot switching is more of an interwoven thread than a hard switch to and from. Both Nick and Julia have connections to the passage of time and so whenever we’re with either of them, we’re learning new and interesting details about the time travel mechanics and secret organizations threatening the safety of the future. But in order to get at that information you will probably have to sit through some wringing of hands at Regency era problems that aren’t particularly interesting or compelling. Perhaps if both Nick and Julia had arrived in the future and found themselves that way we could have better avoided these problems, but I get the feeling that the author enjoyed being in a historical setting for the majority of the book.

If there’s anything that solidified my ‘meh’ opinion, it would have to be the ending. The ending itself, out of context and in regards specifically to the relationship Nick and Julia have, is enjoyable and a nice wrapping up of loose ends, perfect if this had solely been a romance novel. But it’s not. Major plot points regarding the time travel plot are left unresolved, far too many for it to be argued cliffhanger. The author’s website mentions that she’s working on a second book, but The River of No Return was not marketed as a series. The book proclaims “a novel” on the cover, a statement that to me indicates standalone. With that in mind, the lack of closure in the ending is very disappointing. Perhaps when a second novel is written I’ll read it, because I was quite invested in the time travel world and threats set up in this book. I want to know what’s happening with The Guild and its history! Julia has connections to things that weren’t clarified! The main adversary never gets a full explanation and I need to know! But I received no answers to my questions and have no idea when the sequel will ever be written.