FULL DISCLOSURE: I was one of Meredith’s beta readers for the final manuscript of this book. I re-read it in final form before writing this blog entry.
THE RIVER MAIDEN pulled me in from the very first line, and kept pulling me through the book with its rich descriptive language and relatable characters. The first third of the book spends a good deal of time establishing our main characters as they are in the present, while the second two thirds of the book really explore the story and pick up the pace. By the end of the book, I wanted Book Two. Badly!
Dermot (our main male protagonist) appears deceptively predictable. Somehow, though, the reader realizes that there is more here than meets the eye. Sure, he’s gallant, he’s remarkably handsome, he’s sensitive without being weak. But he’s also smart and has depth that’s conveyed very subtly. Since we don’t find out until a bit later that there is already a boyfriend in Sarah’s life (this is NOT a spoiler), the attraction/denial between Sarah and Dermot seems to point to Sarah’s trust issues. There’s also a good bit of foreshadowing of a mystery that will unfold as the story develops. As the book progresses, though, Dermot becomes much more a predictable romance hero. His character and personal struggles become much more fully explored, and while he still has the characteristics from the beginning of the book, the reader starts to see that the gallantry runs deeper and is based on genuine respect and interest in Sarah, her past, present and future.
Sarah, our female lead character, is more fully formed from the beginning. A good deal of the beginning of the book explores her history, how she was raised by her grandmother (not a spoiler–this is explained in the first few pages), her connections to the old Appalachian culture, and her central conflict. Again, much of this is revealed in the beginning of the book, but the impact of her past doesn’t start to become clearer until we’re much more deeply engaged in the story. Even at the end of the book, though, there are mysteries that the reader still wants to understand. I wish that there had been a little more resolution in some of the main story, but despite wishing that, The River Maiden left me satisfied by a wonderful tale.
One of the elements I loved most about this book was how Ms. Stoddard was able to set the book in contemporary times, but retain the feel of historical fiction. I think part of that was her inclusion of “auld” traditions–those of Scotland and Appalachia, as well as a touch of Nova Scotia. I had a sense of times and worlds colliding in this book and it was very effective. Ms. Stoddard’s use of, and expertise in, folklore is generously sprinkled throughout the book. There’s also substantial mystical occurrences, but somehow, The River Maiden doesn’t cross the line from contemporary and reality-based fiction into paranormal fiction.
For many, many years, I’ve gravitated toward books that used Celtic mythology in their plots and themes. There’s something in those stories that resonates with me strongly. I would guess they resonate with many others as well, judging by the number of books that use Celtic mythology as a starting point! The River Maiden embraces the story-telling traditions of the Celtic peoples, and brings it into the modern world in a very engaging way.
I can’t wait to read more of Meredith Stoddard’s work and look forward to Book Two of the Once and Future Series. If you want to read more of her writing after finishing The River Maiden, try her two novellas on Amazon: The White House and A Fond Kiss. Both books are excellent and (this seems to be a trademark) leave the reader wanting more!