Book Review – Fate by Ryen Lesli

About a year and some change ago Ryen’s first book, River, found its way onto this site. River was the opening salvo in a series about a young woman plucked from normalcy and dropped into a fantasy setting where she finds out she’s a princess. Some people would say this kind of thing happens with alarming regularity, but I’m still waiting for my tiara. All I’ve got is this lousy paper crown I fished out of the dumpster behind Burger King and my subjects are a bunch of drunks and meth-heads. But, yes, it’s a commonplace story in YA fiction because I think almost everyone looks around and asks, “What is that beautiful house? Where is my large automobile?” It’s a universal thing but, let’s face it, just because something’s been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be good. “A Fistful of Dollars” was an excellent take on “Yojimbo”, even if Akira Kurosawa was less than impressed.

So, put all that aside and focus on the story itself and how it plays out.

Fate, like River before it, is a coming-of-age story set in a world where magic is a thing and our would-be princess absolutely does not get along with her mom. Lesli’s tales do not paint a pretty picture of ballgowns and easy life in the castle where the main conflict of the story is which china to use for the big gala. They’re grittier and Lesli has no qualms about getting into the muck with her characters. And that’s another thing – traditional princess stories focus on the princess and maybe her interactions with royalty and that one cute boy who sells potatoes and is secretly a foreign prince only he didn’t know it because his evil grandmother sold him into potato farming to cover her gambling debts. Lesli’s River – the character, not the book – spends most of her time with warriors and running from demons. It’s a YA romance at its heart, but the story and the character could easily be pushed into the adult world like some kind of awesome new Princess Punk genre. And River would probably be right at home hanging out with the spud-slinging prince of Potatostan, even if he wasn’t a prince. She’s that down-to-Earth.

Fate’s tale picks up almost where the events of River took off. She’s beginning to come to grips her new reality, even as that reality spirals out of control as the main plotline of the series takes off. We’re talking pairing, demons, trapped mermaids, and a whole lot of folk shuffling off the mortal coil. Frankly, as an action writer myself, I was more drawn in by the intrigue and fight scenes, but I understand some people get into that whole “romance” thing and there’s plenty of that to go around, too. All this in addition to River’s fun, snarky character.

So, if you like the idea of a hidden world that you secretly belong in but loathe the idea of glass slippers and chastising the help for minor infractions, check out Fate.

Secrets always lie…It’s only been a month since River’s world was destroyed and she was forced home to the ebb. Held prisoner by her uncontrollable power, River struggles with the long buried secrets of her forgotten past. When the Demon twins sneak into the Banyans clan, hunting for a sacrifice, Cat and Wolf must fight to keep River safe. After one of them falls to the deadly blade of fate, River spirals into darkness, one that brings her face-to-face with the Reaper. River must make a choice. Either drown in her pain or claw her way back to the light.

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Book Review – River by Ryen Lesli

A few fun facts about Ryen Lesli

  • She haunts Twitter as “The Witch”
  • She has epic fingernails
  • She likes the word “Fuck”

All of these are good things in my book. Any witches down with dropping F-bombs are worth looking into.

That said, Ryen recently released her first book, a dark fantasy romance about a young woman who finds herself plucked from the world she thought was home and dropped into a magical new world where things are, shall we say, different. Normally, I’d look at a plot like that and yawn, but Ryen handles it beautifully and introduces her own twists to the genre. It’s true, there really isn’t anything new under the sun, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a story and make it amazing with some sleight of hand and a little supernatural chicanery.

Which is exactly what one should expect from someone who calls herself “The Witch”. So, take that sentence about yawning and toss it away; that was me not paying full attention to the writer telling the tale. There’s new life in this story and a protagonist that isn’t going to headline a Disney princess story anytime soon.

And I think that’s what made it most interesting. I’ll be honest, fantasy and romance aren’t really my genres, but as the saying goes, a setting is just a setting. It’s the story that matters. Take “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” or “The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus” and set them in video arcades or space stations and you won’t necessarily have arcade-punk and sci-fi, you’ll still have cracking good stories that just happen to have settings in space or 80s arcades.

By the way, arcade-punk is mine. Stay away from it.

And that’s how I started to view River. Rather than being just Fantasy Romance, it’s a good story that happens to be told in a Fantasy Romance setting. If you’re looking for a romantic triangle or a protagonist that doesn’t bend herself to immediately fit into her new surroundings or even a little magic, River is a good (and fun) book to look into. Even if you’re not necessarily into the genre. Perhaps the best part is, we’ve got more of River and her coterie coming down the pipe.

Does she have a secret life? One even she doesn’t know about?

Ever since seventeen-year-old River can remember, she’s always had the sense that she is in the wrong place—that SHE is wrong. Because of this, she battles a constant restlessness that consumes her. Running is the only thing that helps. Another reason she knows she’s wrong? She can see the light around a person. Everyone gives off energy and somehow River can see a bit of it. She instantly knows when someone’s good or bad. She just doesn’t know what a blurry light means, like the light around the scary new kid.

Upon seeing him, something inside her breaks open; a crack along some forgotten wall that frees a painful wave of raw emotion, faint visions, and an emerald-eyed boy that River doesn’t remember, but knows she should. After the new kid reveals his violent, supernatural side, River’s world explodes and everything she thought was real, fades away. Taken from her life in Georgia, River is forced into the dangerous, beautiful, self-sustaining, power-filled, live-in-the-trees-like-Robin-Hood Fair world that has been impatiently awaiting her return.

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You can also find River on Kyanite Publishing’s storefront

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