by Barbara Erskine
The story is set in the same location, by the bank of the same tidal Suffolk river, but the action is split between three eras: 865; Anglo Saxon England, a time of Viking raiders and warrior kings still choosing between the old Gods and the new Christian faith. 1865, where the lord of the manor has a new, cruel, spoiled aristocratic wife who delights in forcing a reluctant young smith into a doomed affair, and the main plot, which takes place in the here and now; the old barns and forge are now peopled by wealthy middle-class incomers – like Zoe, an unhappy wife, dragged from London by her selfish, boat-mad husband, who rediscovers her zest for life in the arms of her neighbour Leo, a former smith who has been badly scarred by an accident at his forge.
River of Destiny is full of Barbara Eskine’s trademark themes: ghosts, hauntings and reincarnation. It starts out brilliantly and I was instantly gripped, I thought I was in for a treat; what a shame it quickly became so annoying and silly.
The plot feels badly thought through and dreadfully contrived. The characters are caricatures and each one seems to have a convenient skill that emerges when needed, like the Smith who studied Anglo Saxon and can read runes, and the friend who’s a great and accurate psychic – though why she’s needed at all is a bit of a mystery because ghosts, hauntings and evil portents litter the plot like paper cups around a KFC and absolutely everyone can see and sense them at all times of the day and night. I do also wonder if Barbara Erskine has ever seen a field-buried Saxon sword? I doubt it, if she thinks such an artifact can be pulled out of the ground intact, dragged about the countryside for a bit before being pushed back down into the soil. I know it’s just one bit of nonsense in a book already drowning in silliness and I’m probably the only person who rolled their eyes at this particular lack of attention to detail (but it was fantastically annoying!).
More to the point then, is the odd style. Everything, even dialogue, is written entirely without contractions –
`I thought you had gone without me.’
`I thought you would go there to look for Curlew’
`You are a brave woman Zoe.’
– and I don’t understand why; no one speaks like this, it adds nothing to the reading experience. After a very short time it began to make me mad.
In short, River of Destiny is an annoying, chic-litty, soapish piece of nonsense – which is fine, if that’s what you’re after. It wasn’t my cup of tea and I wish I could be more positive because it started so well and maybe that’s my problem with it; I was expecting more and I was disappointed.
I’ve dithered over my rating. Two stars or three? At times, it was hugely annoying, but it was undeniably compelling, a genuine page turner; it would be a terrific mindless holiday read, and if that is what you’re after, well then, come on in, the water’s lovely.