Fantasies that span centuries, time travel, epic romances, secret societies and ancient conspiracies—Bee Ridgway’s debut novel has all of these things, but despite these familiar tropes, The River of No Return provides some exhilarating surprises.

Nobleman Nick Falcott died on a Napoleonic battlefield in 1812. Or at least, that’s what everyone in 1812 thinks. Somehow, Nick actually jumped forward in time to the year 2003, where a mysterious organization known as the Guild took him in, taught him how to live in the 21st century, and told him he could never return to either his own time or place. Ten years later, Nick is suddenly summoned by the Guild and asked to break the rules and travel back to the year 1815 in search of a mysterious Talisman, something of great power that the Guild must find before its enemies, the Ofan, get their hands on it.

In 1815, Falcott’s former neighbor Julia Percy is grieving the loss of her extraordinary grandfather and suffering under the yoke of his heir, her cousin Eamon, when she finds that she’s been blessed with an incredible gift. When Nick returns, suddenly back from the dead, Julia finds that his mission and her gift are linked, and the two embark on an adventure across time to unravel the secrets of the Guild, the Ofan and the Talisman.

Establishing a firm set of rules for the way time travel works is arguably the most important part of building a story like The River of No Return, but too many restrictions can turn a story stale before it even gets started. It’s a fine line to walk, and though this is her first attempt, Ridgway navigates it like a master. Her tale and the world she’s crafted unfold gracefully and compellingly through precise yet lush prose. The result is a novel that fans of hardcore fantasy and literary fiction alike can get behind. The River of No Return is a gorgeous, sweeping debut that is easy to get lost in.

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