River Of Eden
Despite a few minor problems, Glenna McReynold’s River of Eden is a pulse-pounding thrillride, a sensual love story, and a surreal adventure into the mystical unknown, all rolled into one. And this page-turner will hold you in its thrall long after those minor problems are forgotten.
Dr. Annie Parrish is an ethnobotanist on a mission deep in the Amazonian wilds of Brazil. A woman who does things her own way, she’s not exactly welcome in the country after her last trip, which ended in what became nicknamed “The Woolly Monkey Incident” in scientific circles, an incident that threatened to destroy her promising career – and nearly took her life. Now she’s determined to restore her reputation by completing her mission. Unfortunately, she’s already managed to tick off the underworld Powers That Be in Manaus, and needs a lift up the dangerous Rio Negro to return to the site of her find – and of her infamy. Thanks to her less-than-stellar relationships with both the River Basin Coalition of foreign botanists, and with powerful local crime kingpins, the only one willing (and just barely, at that) to provide and captain a boat for her trip is another disgraced scientist named Will Travers. She’s reluctant to trust the man who was once the most brilliant mind in botany, and is now reputed to be alternately a drunkard, a shaman, a criminal, and a dead man. But has no choice – even if he spells trouble, both for their well-being and for her emotional state.
Will Travers has a mission of his own – and it doesn’t include botany. He’s heard of “Amazon Annie”, but he was hardly expecting such a delicate-looking creature. It’s only when he finds out that she has been abused by the very man he’s vowed to destroy – Corisco Vargas, a political and criminal power who enslaves Indians and white men alike to work in his illegal gold mines – that he agrees to take her anywhere. Few of the stories about him are true, but admittedly his loyalties are no longer to science above all. He has entered a world that science has no tools to explain or conquer, and until he completes his mission those loyalties will be divided. But he soon gains another objective – keeping himself and Annie alive. The trouble-prone doctor has gotten under his skin but good. And surviving each other may be just as much of a challenge as surviving the rest of the danger-ridden rainforest and its inhabitants.
Annie and Will are extremely likable characters; both are vibrant and intensely interesting people with a great deal of chemistry. They’re both trouble-magnets without being stupid. And both have complex stories that shape them. Each is intelligent, resourceful, and has a great deal of depth. And each has a mystical and symbolic element to them that unfortunately is not fully explained by the end. Because the questions left unanswered have to do with their connection to one another and to some events in the finale, there is an unfinished quality to the book. That said, however, these complaints are fairly minor when judging the book as a whole.
The plot was very complex, and wove external and internal concerns nicely. Annie manages to make enemies very easily out of the shady elements in the Rio Negro basin, but she does it not out of stupidity or plot contrivance, but rather out of necessity. Will’s obligations both in the solid, everyday world, and in the spiritual Overworld also drive the plot, especially as he abandons his unsavory affiliations to protect Annie. However, this is not a book where the big strong man has to run around babysitting the helpless little heroine. Annie plays her part as well, and does some protecting of her own. While her actions get them in trouble as often as not, she is by no means a wimp, and her courage and intelligence are a perfect match for Will’s own. Between the two of them, though, they are enough trouble to ensure that there is never a dull moment for either of them, and “down time” is not in their vocabulary.
The other thing I noticed as I read this book was that the descriptions were perfect – neither too much nor too little. I never had a problem picturing the intense and exotic scenery of the Amazon rainforest or the seedy waterfront of Manaus, nor did I find myself wanting to skip over some long and dragging section of scene-setting. It was done beautifully, and with a light hand, which was extremely refreshing.
Aside from the incompletely-defined mystical elements, the only other things that might be problematic for readers relate to is, in fact, Annie and Will’s relationship. Each realizes, separately, that they are falling in love immediately after sexual encounters, which might lend itself to the suspicion that they are in lust far more than they are in love. And because those three little all-important words are never uttered, some might never conclude they love each other, although I was convinced.
While River of Eden has some flaws, it is an exciting and enthralling read. Considering the difficulty of presenting this story, I’d say that the book is thisclose to excellent and one I’d recommend wholeheartedly. This was my first book by Ms. McReynolds and I’m eager for more.