River of Dreams
There are few things that I love better than an epic adventure story. Far-off places, daring swordfights, princes in disguise—a good tale has these elements and many more. Unfortunately, not all adventure stories fall into the “epic” category. In the case of River of Dreams, I felt the plot was simply too mundane to be considered legendary.
The book gets off to a good start with traveling companions Rùnach and Aisling sneaking around the library of Eòlas in Diarmailt in search of certain bits of classified information. Aisling is on a quest to save her country, Bruadair, from the ruthless tyrant currently ruling it. Rùnach, her mercenary partner, is armed with both a vast knowledge of the nine kingdoms and their politics and a family with an even greater wealth of knowledge. When a scoundrel tracks them down at Eòlas, Rùnach and Aisling make their escape and take refuge in the Elvish kingdom of Tòrr Dòrainn, where Rùnach’s grandfather Sìle is king.
It is at this point, approximately one chapter into the book, that the pace slows to a crawl.
Rùnach and Aisling enjoy a lengthy stay in Tòrr Dòrainn, where they are doted upon and pampered endlessly. Rùnach, who is still struggling to learn more about Aisling’s mysterious background, finds himself handed secrets on silver platters by various members of his family. Aisling, likewise, has many things revealed to her by the elves. What amazed me was that the two of them could be sitting in the palace, surrounded by relatives hinting at Aisling’s magical abilities, the fate of Bruadair, and the fact that the pair of them are destined to marry, and yet still remain completely oblivious to all of this information. After pages and pages of watching Rùnach and Aisling sit in willful ignorance, I began to be annoyed by them.
The book picks up a little bit after the pair manage to leave Tòrr Dòrainn and pay a visit to a witch, but all too soon they are back to another cozy palace, settling in for a stay with Uachdaran, king of the dwarves. More things are revealed to the two travelers, but this time they manage to be a bit more attentive, finally admitting that Aisling has magic and they love each other.
As you can perhaps tell, I had a major problem with the plotline of this book. I’m not necessarily one for very dark adventure stories, but that doesn’t mean that I enjoy one where the main characters flit from safe haven to safe haven. Almost everyone in River of Dreams seems bent on helping Rùnach and Aisling, and as a consequence the villains of the story are barely able to touch them. This was not only unrealistic, but also rather tedious. I wanted an adventure story—I wanted to see characters facing adversity more fantastical than is common in an ordinary romance novel. In that respect, River of Dreams was sadly lacking.
The other main issue I had with this book was Rùnach and Aisling’s relationship. As I mentioned before, it takes the pair of them a while to realize that they have a romantic relationship at all. Now, sometimes this is cute. Sometimes it works, given the right characters. In this case, however, it simply made me more bored with them as a couple. They barely act like a couple (which perhaps explains the earlier confusion about whether or not they would be a couple) and as a result I finished the book unconvinced of their love for each other and tired of their romance in general.
As I looked back on my thoughts of River of Dreams on the whole, I was saddened to realize how little I enjoyed it. I liked the world that Ms. Kurland created (even if it included more safe havens than are found in the typical adventure story) and I also liked her characters (even if they did bore me from time to time, for the most part they’re sweet people). Unfortunately, the problems with this book were too widespread to ignore. I might pick up the next Nine Kingdoms book to finish the story arc, but I’m not sure how many more of her books I’ll be inclined to read after that.