Bolivian-Argentinian Inez Olivera belongs to the glittering upper society of nineteenth century Buenos Aires, and like the rest of the world, the town is steeped in old world magic that’s been largely left behind or forgotten. Inez has everything a girl might want, except for the one thing she yearns the most: her globetrotting parents—who frequently leave her behind.

Written by Naomi

I have to preface this review by letting you know that What the River Knows by Isabel Ibañez is part one in the Secrets of the Nile duology. Unfortunately, there is not yet a publication date set for part two. If you prefer your series to be complete before starting, add this to your to-be-read-list, but save the book until part two comes out. If, like me, you like to suffer a little, go right ahead!

This is the line in the blurb that made me pick up the book: “The Mummy meets Death on the Nile in this lush, immersive historical fantasy set in Egypt filled with adventure, a rivals-to-lovers romance, and a dangerous race.”

We open the book to 1884 Argentina, where Inez Olivera is anxiously awaiting news from her parents. They are in Egypt, where they have been most of her life. Her parents fell in love with the country when Inez was a child and choose to spend the majority of the year in and around Cairo. They have never allowed Inez to join them on their travels, claiming that it is too dangerous. Inez is now 19-years-old and hopes she can finally join her parents. However, instead of a ticket, she gets devastating news in reply: her parents are dead.

Inez is told that her parents set off on a trip through the desert and perished; they were missing for weeks before they were presumed dead. Inez is determined to get more answers, so she travels to Egypt by herself. She is set on joining her uncle, who is an archaeologist, and to finally see what was so wonderful about Egypt that her parents seemingly preferred it over her.

Once in Cairo, Inez does not get the reception she envisioned. Her uncle sent his assistant, Whit (if you guessed he is the rival in rivals-to-lovers, you are right) to put her on the first ship headed back to Argentina. Inez has no intention to do that, and with this decision, we are off on our adventure!

Inez is naive, yet competent, headstrong and resourceful. She does not always make the smartest decisions, but they are very believable and make sense for her character. While her journey through Egypt is not without challenges, I always believed she would figure it out.

Speaking of Egypt, this book is a dedication to all those kids who love Egyptian mythology. Inez immediately falls in love, just like her parents. The setting is lush and rich, and Egypt is described vividly and with very clear respect and fondness.

What the River Knows is a historical fantasy romance, set in a world where magic exists but has fallen out of favor. Objects can still carry some magical residue, but the more they are touched, the more their magic weakens, until an ordinary object remains.

I thought the magic system, while interesting, could be fleshed out more. These magical objects allow Inez to make some very important discoveries, but I believed her to be competent enough to make those discoveries without using magic.

The romance between Inez and Whit is made up of excellent banter and mutual admiration. Their tentative partnership is underlined by believable tension, and I was rooting for them.

The romance is definitely part of what made me join the Bad Decisions Book Club (where you stay up way too late reading a captivating book). This is actually a personality flaw of mine and usually not a reflection of the book itself. In this case, however, it was very much because of the book itself. There is adventure! Betrayal! More betrayal! Betrayed again! I just couldn’t stop reading.

Since this is part one in a duology, What the River Knows ends on a cliffhanger. I knew this going in, but I did not expect the cliffhanger to be that shocking and that good. I was lulled into a false sense of security by the last chapter, only to be completely destroyed by the epilogue (which only takes up half a page).

This means I will be very impatiently waiting for part two. I cannot wait to see where Inez’ story goes next.

  • The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida
  • The Heart Principle
  • Honestly, I’m Totally Faking It
  • What the River Knows
  • Happy Place
  • The Passage
  • System Collapse
  • Dauntless
  • Always Coming Home
  • Lessons in Chemistry