ARC Review: What The River Knows by Isabel Ibanez

Today’s review is about WHAT THE RIVER KNOWS by Isabel Ibañez. It’s the first book in a duology set in 19th century Egypt during British occupation. Inez learns of her parents’ death in Egypt and sets sail from Argentina to for answers. What she finds is more questions and a plot of deception and betrayal.

Author: Isabel Ibañez
Series: Secrets of the Nile #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publish Date: October 31, 2023
Print Length: 416

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Official Synopsis

The Mummy meets Death on the Nile in What the River Knows, Isabel Ibañez’s lush, immersive historical fantasy set in Egypt and filled with adventure, a rivals-to-lovers romance, and a dangerous race.

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.

When she receives word of their tragic deaths, Inez inherits their massive fortune and a mysterious guardian, an archeologist in partnership with his Egyptian brother-in-law. Yearning for answers, Inez sails to Cairo, bringing her sketch pads and a golden ring her father sent to her for safekeeping before he died. But upon her arrival, the old world magic tethered to the ring pulls her down a path where she soon discovers there’s more to her parent’s disappearance than what her guardian led her to believe.

With her guardian’s infuriatingly handsome assistant thwarting her at every turn, Inez must rely on ancient magic to uncover the truth about her parent’s disappearance–or risk becoming a pawn in a larger game that will kill her.

What the River Knows is the first book in the thrilling Secrets of the Nile duology.

My Review

I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.

WHAT THE RIVER KNOWS is the first book in a duology set in 19th century Egypt. Inez’s parents long ago left her in the care of her aunt while they spend most of their time excavating in Egypt. Though she longs to travel with them, they always leave her behind, opting for their adventures instead. What Inez doesn’t expect is word of her parents’ untimely deaths. Shocked and seeking answers, Inez stubbornly sets sail alone to Cairo. Once there she receives a less than warm welcome from her uncle. Curious, determined, and with a taste for adventure, Inez refuses to be left behind. Instead, she ends up on an adventure that yields more questions than answers.

Despite Inez’s impatience, the pace of WHAT THE RIVER KNOWS is rather languid. Objectively, I think this benefits the plot, but subjectively I wanted the pace to move a little faster. However, I enjoyed all of the descriptions Ibañez included, particularly when Inez explores Cairo. I also liked that real life history is the backdrop with a fictional plot superimposed upon it. This means there is commentary on British colonialism in Egypt as well as how they stole many antiquities from Egypt. (The Author’s Note also has a good overview regarding the British influence on Egypt.) Because of the period of time in which this story occurs, the dialogue style is more formal. It’s not incredibly overt, but it does allow for Inez and Whitford, her uncle’s assistant, (and the reader) an outlet to bicker over formalities.

Although categorized as fantasy, WHAT THE RIVER KNOWS falls within the subgenre of magical realism. This essentially means the world as the reader knows it seems pretty typical, but there is an undercurrent of magic or fantasy. The magic system revolves around physical items whereby someone in the past spelled them to do something or to impart memories to the user. Inez finds herself seeing and feeling the memories of Cleopatra thanks to a ring mailed to her by her father.

I really appreciated the lack of instalove. There is evident attraction between Inez and Whitford from the beginning. But Ibañez allows it to build through interactions, which are mostly arguments, and experiences. Furthermore, they can’t act on it for a variety of reasons. I think this helps make their attraction more convincing (forbidden love, anyone?). Inez is quite headstrong, which greatly endeared her to me, though her adventure streak is more daring than mine. I also felt frustrated for her when her uncle, and ergo Whitford, wouldn’t give her much information about anything. I wouldn’t necessarily call it miscommunication, but rather a lack of sharing intel by her uncle. However, this really sets up the book for an unexpected ending, which made up for the ever-so-slightly slower pace of the book. I look forward to reading the finale!

WHAT THE RIVER KNOWS is perfect for all fantasy readers, especially those with a penchant for the inclusion of Egyptian history. The deceptively calm pace leaves room for spurts of action and surprise for a riveting finale.

Rating: 3.75
Content warnings: death, gore (mild), gun violence
Reading format: Kindle e-book

14 thoughts on “ARC Review: What The River Knows by Isabel Ibanez

  1. Great review! I’m looking forward to this one. I got it in an Owlcrate box last year but haven’t been able to read it yet. I love the idea of Cairo as a setting, and I know I’ll probably love all the descriptions and exploration of the city. I might just have to bump this up the TBR…

  2. I just saw the cover for book two, which is just as beautiful as this one. I love the idea of an Egyptian setting, very curious to try this some time.

    1. Yes!! The cover of the second book looks just as gorgeous! I also recently saw the cover of a book she wrote prior to this one (can’t remember the title right off the bat) and it was even more beautiful…the colors were just perfect.

  3. I liked this one, but think that it’s more romance-focused than anything else, which isn’t clear from the marketing–which suggests it’s more of a mystery/adventure. And the pacing is slow. I rather think that this didn’t actually have to be a duology. I could see wrapping everything up in one volume if there had been more action and less slow burn romance.

    1. It’s interesting you say that because I didn’t think the romance was very heavy in this book! For me it definitely felt more focused on her quest to find out what happened to her parents. However, I do read a lot of fantasy romance, so perhaps what I feel isn’t romance heavy might seem that way to others who don’t read as much fantasy romance.

      1. Haha, I don’t know! I was definitely thinking, “You sure think about this guy a lot for someone trying to track down her parents!”

  4. I am glad to read that you enjoyed What the River Knows. I also really liked the underlying romance here because it just wasn’t the main theme. Other books often seem to lose sight of the theme by pushing the romance too quickly and too demandingly.

    By the way, I have now linked your review to mine.

    1. Thanks, RoXXie! I agree–I liked that the romance wasn’t the main theme, too. I generally don’t end up liking the romances in YA books, which makes sense because I’m not the target age group. So I always appreciate when I find a YA book where the romance isn’t the main theme.

  5. It’s been sooooo long that I haven’t read something set in an Egyptian setting! Egyptian mytho used to be one of my favourite mythos in high school and I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t read more about it nowadays. This book sounds great though. Great review! 😀

    1. I know very little about Egyptian mythology haha, but it’s very cool that was something you were really into at one time. I wonder if you’d recognize some of the motifs that main character encounters…could be fun to try and piece it together at the same time the MC does!

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