THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS, MIDEVALY HONORABLE SPOILERS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Series: River of Time
Author: Lisa T. Bergren
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the decision that something is more important than fear.”
Why am I reviewing this series as a bind up of three of the 5 novels? That can’t possibly be a good sign, maybe it isn’t, but I’ll beg you all– hear me out. I think this is less about poor writing and more about an age difference when it comes to the intended audience of these novels and myself.
I first found Waterfall on GoodReads years ago. I had no idea it was a Christian young adult novel. I generally love Christian fiction and exploring my own faith through the trails of characters in a story. So, aChristian time travel romance?
Count me on board. Let’s push the envelopes of acceptable Christian fiction by exploring all of the possibilities of God’s power.
That was as far as the excitement went, though. Everything else just fell so short for me. They were easy enough to breeze through (I read all three in 6 days) and they broke me out of my reading slump. I smiled and grinned at times, and I pushed on through chapters when the action was flowing, but in novels like these you need to be able to suspend disbelief and I… could not.
It’s not that Bergren didn’t write well, but there was so much of these books that felt surface level. There are plenty of young adult novels that are shockingly deep and emotional, but these three were not one of them. Bergren took us through a story that needed either a 3rd person POV or multiple narrators and instead had us view the world through Gabriella, a 17 year old teenage girl from modern times thrust unexpectedly into 1332 Italy.
A few points that frustrated me as both a Christian, an adult, a woman and a reader:
- Gabi has never been in love, never been kissed, and never had a boyfriend– and falls in love with Marcello practically the moment she sees him.
- Gabi manages to skillfully handle a broadsword that weighs twenty pounds more than her fencing saber and how to throw a dagger with accuracy. She also miraculously knows mideval Italian, Latin, charges head first into battle, can scale castle walls and rappel, knows mideval cures for illness and disease treatments, how to cauterize a wound, and knows mideval ettitique– all because her parents are archeologists and her father taught her fencing.
- Despite all of this, she manages to get captured twice and require rescue and it is in her moments of feminine damsel-in-distress that she begins to cling to God, not when she is inspiring thousands to battle as the She-Wolf.
- Gabi listens to Luca more than she does Marcello; she is always, always, always going against his wishes
- The triangle tattoo did not appear until the second book, and when Gabi remembered it on Marcello I realized WE as readers never saw it on him.
It was all a bit too much. Her sister, Lia, is equally as adept with a bow and arrow, her mother with a spear (despite no previous experience), and the men allow them to battle alongside them. Marcello forgives her nearly instantly every time, even when she returns the kiss of another man. All he wants is to marry her.
I grew tired of Gabi talking about how sexy and attractive all the men were; it was like looking through the eyes of a severely sheltered person who had never before been free to examine another human and feel emotion. Hearing her refer to Marcello as “my man” over and over (“i looked for my man” “my man was standing”, etc) became very tiresome. I am old enough now to understand that Christians are not born and bred only out of innocent people, but those who have fallen and sinned and know more about life than some may think is holy. It’s their rebirth in Christ that starts them anew.
If I were 17 and reading this, I would have gobbled it up. Gabi is a strong heroine who is courageous and moves forward for what she loves even when her heart is fickle. She wins the heart of Lord Forelli and marries the man she loves, helping him defeat his greatest foe. She and her sister gain a name for themselves and inspire nations. It’s wonderful, really.
I just feel like it could have been so much more. So much more.
Do I see myself working through the last two novels? I don’t know. I would have loved to read through Luca’s point of view, or Lia’s… and I know the novellas grant that, but I think for me I know that its too late to save my view of these novels. They were not written to be deep, enthralling romances. They were meant to be accessible to a Christian young adult audience that wanted to venture into something slightly taboo (time travel, romance pre-marriage including kissing and a wavering heart) but still feeling stationed and safe.
I remember being that reader-I read a novel that included drugs in high school that I nearly didn’t finish it felt so scandalous- and I think these books are a great stepping stone into something stronger. They are just about 10 years too late for me.
Waterfall and Cascade both earned 3’s, but Torrent earned a 2 from me. We’ll round that up to 2.66, or a solid three.