Though Fran Wilde apparently didn’t make my list of Top 10 Fantasy Authors I’ve Never Read, she has been on my radar but unread for quite a while. Good thing she came out with a middle grade book, rather than the purely adult books that tend to languish on my TBR lists!
Riverland by Fran Wilde. Amulet Books, 2019.
Eleanor and her sister Mike live in a house with lots of rules. If they follow the rules – things like not “bringing trouble home” by talking to people outside the house about what happens at home – the “house magic” will work, replacing things that their father has broken while they sleep. These rules have worked to keep them safe so far, even though the girls hide under the bed telling stories to each other when their father starts throwing things. But now, the rules are getting harder and harder to follow, and even following them isn’t working the way it has in the past.
One part of the change is not unexpected – Eleanor’s neighbor and best friend Pendra begs to visit her house, instead of Eleanor always going to visit Pendra. But even aiming for a visit short enough that the adults won’t notice isn’t enough. They are decidedly unamused, especially because Pendra’s mother, Mrs. Sartri, is the school guidance counselor.
The other change is decidedly unexpected – a river appears under the bed as they’re hiding, sweeping them into Riverland, a country beset by nightmares and in need of their help. They’ll have to figure out the rules of this new country quickly, because the nightmares of Riverland are getting strong and bold, flooding over into the ordinary world.
There is a lot here about sisters, obviously, as Eleanor tries to protect Mike. And though their “house magic” may not have been real magic, there is real magic here, both in Riverland and in the real world. Here again we have a fantasy novel tackling some really tough subjects, including Eleanor recognizing that her father’s behavior is abusive even if it isn’t the kind of abuse she recognizes from TV. (Read more about this in Fran Wilde’s column at the Book Smugglers.) I loved that the children had choices and agency here, and that they’re shown as middle class white family, wealthy enough to replace all the frequently broken things, showing the truth that abuse is an abuse issue, not a race or class issue, however uncomfortable that is. And though I’m focusing on that tough issue, there is enough time in the magical world and away from the abuse that the book as a whole didn’t feel weighed down to me. I could write more about the coolness of the magic and of Riverland, but I think I’ll let you discover it for yourself.