What the River Knows

Wednesday Bks. Nov. 2023. 416p. Tr $20. ISBN 9781250803375.
Gr 8 Up–Ibañez returns with the start of a spellbinding historical duology set during the 19th-century rise of Egyptomania, where lingering magic still infuses old—and ancient—objects. Just before Bolivian-Argentinian Inez Olivera turns 19, she receives a package from her father containing a gold ring imbued with old magic and no note. Instead of birthday wishes and an invitation to join her parents in Egypt, the only letter Inez receives from overseas is an official notification that her parents have been declared dead. With no details forthcoming, she embarks alone to Cairo to find her uncle and investigate what her parents were working on in the desert. She is blocked at every turn by her uncle and his handsome, aggravating assistant Whitford Hayes, who seem determined to keep her away from their mysterious archeological expedition. In Egypt, Inez realizes the gold ring has left her with a magical resonance that may lead her to answers about her parents—or it could get her killed. Ibañez’s lush and complex world is overflowing with historical details, including a subtle emphasis on the consequences of Egyptomania on native Egyptians. Inez and Whit’s chemistry is undeniable, and their banter is delightful; they both remain dedicated to their own goals as the romance develops. Characters are diverse in race, religion, and ethnicity, bringing historical Argentina and Egypt to life.
VERDICT With an adventurous treasure hunt, a perilous mystery, and a character-driven romance set in a unique historical moment, this is Ibañez’s best work yet. Make space in all YA collections.

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