Thanks to the generosity of the folks from Horizon Books and Jo Fletcher Books, I received a copy of this book. 🙂
The novel is the opening book in a Portal Fantasy trilogy and follows four friends as they realize their connection to a world they never knew existed, and ultimately journey into that world.
The four friends, Alan, Kate, Mark and Mo, each come from different backgrounds – Alan is a kid from the US, now living with his uncle Padraig in Clonmel (a town in Ireland) after the death of his parents; Kate has lives in Clonmel with her uncle and is also an orphan; Mark and Mo are (yep, you guessed it) also orphans, though they aren’t related, and live with an obviously evil guy who will definitely feature as an antagonist throughout the trilogy (though not as strongly featured in this first book). In hindsight, the connections between the four (eventual) friends is self-evident, leaving not much for us, the reader, to wonder about.
With regards to world-building, I was initially interested and curious about what was being revealed – the links between ‘our’ world and the world beyond the gateway the four friends will pass through – the stories that the kids hear and the histories spoken of, though, seemed a bit far removed from what was eventually revealed.
Character-wise the novel almost strayed into either stereotype-territory or copying-other-Fantasies-territory – almost, because Mr Ryan does do well to steer his characters away from the tropes we’ve come to expect (and disdain), and by the end of the novel all the characters have grown and evolved admirably. My one complaint is that Mark – he seems transplanted from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe; Mark’s from a different time and background but yet is lured in almost the same manner and to do the same things as Edward did.
Plot- and pace-wise, the tale is enjoyable, though (in my opinion) not riveting – I finished reading two other novels while I worked through this one, so it didn’t have my complete attention. It must be said, though, that Portal Fantasy is a very difficult genre to pull off, a feat not many writers can achieve. The pacing of the novel slowed at times (in main-character POV jumps, for example), and some of the important events were evident long before they occurred (destroying and important means of transportation, for example, and Mark’s plot-arc), but Mr Ryan eventually steered the plot into a satisfying ending which also managed to set up the second book, The Tower of Bones, nicely.
The Snowmelt River isn’t a terrible read, nor even a half-bad read, but in the crowded Fantasy market it probably won’t stand out as well as it could – as a bookseller I’ve suggested this novel to the cross-over readers, those making the transition from Young Adult fiction to the more adult-themed novels available in Fantasy. To my mind it is the Belgariad and Malloreon to the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant – a read that won’t challenge you.
I’ll be reading The Tower of Bones, though, because I hate leaving a series unfinished, and Mr Ryan has left the characters and the world they’re in at a place I’m curious to discover more about. 🙂
All in all, not as strong a novel as I would have liked, and won’t stand out in the crowded market – though younger readers will probably love this! 🙂
6 / 10
Until next time,