The first in a new series, Riven follows the love story of rock stars. Well, of one current and one former rock star. Theo Decker, lead singer with the band Riven, is at the top of his career, with no end in sight. For him, though, it’s a never-ending spiral of everything but the music, the only part he truly loves. The rest, though – the publicity, the fame, the everything else – he puts up with for the sake of the music and his group. After an extended tour (that is doing a number on his voice) Theo finds himself in a dark and almost empty bar with only the bartender and a guy playing the guitar. But oh man, the musician is fascinating, and Theo can’t get enough.
Against his better judgement, Caleb goes home with Theo, and their night together is fabulous. But he leaves before Theo wakes up, heading back to his home outside the city. Caleb has been living in his grandfather’s house ever since he started fighting his drug addiction, something he mentally ties in with the music scene. As a result, he’s determined to stay away from Theo, convinced that even associating with that lifestyle second-hand, as it were, will drop him right back where he was before.
I have a lot of mixed feelings going on here. I liked the romance between Theo and Caleb, but I got so tired of their inner monologues. Caleb is doing his best to be healthy, put his addiction behind him and move on with his life, but he is so unhealthy about it. Instead of working to rejoin the rest of the world, even in small ways, like speaking with more than two people on a regular basis, Caleb stays at home, works in his garden, and occasionally surfaces for air when his best friend (and former band mate) swings by. But it’s the situation with his sofa (yes, really!) that really brings this issue home. When he first was trying to get clean, Caleb was so afraid he would go back to using that he not only gave said best friend all his shoes so he couldn’t go out, he also took his sofa and turned it to completely face a wall. A blank wall. So he couldn’t see the door, look out the window, anything. He was so afraid of what might happen, he made himself ignore the option. That was fine at the time, but even now that he’s recovering, Caleb’s sofa is in the same exact place, facing the wall. He is literally stuck in place. I wanted to smack him out of his pity party and tell him to stop going back and forth on whether or not Theo’s lifestyle would work for him.
And Theo, sweet baby Theo, will you think before you act for just a second? Please? Caleb may be over-reacting to everything (and I do mean everything), but if you want to build a life with another person, you have to actually think about how your actions will affect them, too. Both characters were so freaking frustrating I had to pause a couple of times before going back to finish their story.
And the conflict in the plot simply boils down to ‘will Caleb accept his past and trust himself enough to be involved with Theo?’ which… was more than a little disappointing. Theo knows what he wants and just goes for it, and Caleb gets stuck in his head, and that’s that.
The representation of addiction as a disease and fighting back against it was, as always with Roan Parrish books, really well done. We also get to see surprisingly healthy relationships and patterns, which I certainly wasn’t expecting. I do love me a bit of a tortured hero, and we get two here. Both Theo and Caleb have major issues, about self-worth, about anxiety, about where they belong in their world, and those are handled beautifully. But it didn’t make for a particularly convincing romance, as while Theo seems all-in for a relationship, Caleb’s issues leave him a lackluster romantic hero at best. The imbalance doesn’t give me much hope for any real relationship between them. Ultimately, Riven isn’t a bad book, and it’s a good example of Parrish’s work, but the themes are bleak and ultimately exhausting – and just not for me.