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The Chronicle of Secret Riven, Ronlyn Domingue, Atria Books, 2014, 385 pp
Book Two of The Keeper of Tales trilogy takes place 1000 years after The Mapmaker's War. Secret Riven is the daughter of an ambitious historian and a gifted translator. She is silent as a baby, toddler, and young child, not speaking until she is in second grade.
Her silence is only an outward manifestation of Secret's differences. She can communicate non-verbally with plants and animals. She also suffers from unsettling visions and dreams, many of which leave her either ill or in pain. Ronlyn Domingue has an exceptional ability to make you feel Secret's uniqueness and what it is like for her when she is too young to comprehend what is happening.
"Secret's whole body vibrated with the sound, her being a bell struck with full force. She felt suddenly heavy and strong, as if her body were no longer her own."
The novel's subtitle is An Account of What Preceded the Plague of Silences. Exactly true because the account of Secret's first seventeen years occasionally mentions this plague but by the end of the book the plague is still to come. It did not occur to me until just now that Secret will be especially suited to survive a plague of silences.
In such an eerie story, even more fairytale-like than The Mapmaker's War, every chapter is some degree of strange. A mysterious manuscript sent to Secret's mother to translate causes illness and terrible challenges for both of them. The mother is cold and distant toward her daughter but beloved by the father. A set of myths in an appendix explains the mystical history of Secret's country. She is led into a forest by a red squirrel where an old woman teaches her these myths and provides some much needed mother love. Whenever Secret returns from afternoons in the forest, no time has passed in her world.
The life of this unique and amazing girl is revealed chapter by chapter, year by year, as she grows. In fact, the format is similar to the way I am constructing my memoir. Both mine and Secret's birthdays are in late summer, shortly before a new school year begins, an uncanny coincidence for me.
The pace is slow and dreamy, now and then relieved by incidents between Riven and the country's Prince, who becomes one her best friends. Secret's oddness and psychical suffering are intense, her life unpredictable even as it follows the patterns of daily life, school, and yearly growth. Thus the book contains a never ending tension.
I was made part of this girl's life so deeply and intimately that when the book ended I felt adrift. The conflicts she carried with her for 18 years are by no means resolved. Obviously that will happen in the final volume, still being written according to a recent interview with Domingue, but due to be published next year.
I am fairly sure I will not forget anything about Secret Riven and when I start the next book, her story, her chronicle, will be right there.
(The Chronicle of Secret Riven is available in hardcover and ebook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)