River of Eden, by Glenna McReynolds

>> Monday, March 24, 2003

I spent a beautiful weekend in Punta del Este, and I did lots of reading. The first book I read, which I'd started last week, was River of Eden (excerpt), by Glenna McReynolds. Great book: B+

Bad-boy scientist Will Travers may have an ivy league mind, but he's got the spirit of the jungle in his heart and the kiss of the Amazon on his body.

With his sun bronzed skin, a week's worth of beard, and a shaman's crystal around his neck, Will Sanchez Travers looked more like a man mothers warned their daughters about than a Harvard-trained ethnobotonist. And if only half the rumors about him were true, Dr. Annie Parrish figured she was in trouble. Still, she needed the rogue scientist to ferry her upriver in search of a prize so extraordinary, it would make her reputation-- if it didn't get her killed first.

When she'd reluctantly agreed to take the legendary Amazon Annie deep into the Brazilian rain forest, Will expected a woman warrior, not a blond ragamuffin renegade whose secrets ran darker than he could have imagined. But once the journey begins, there will be no turning back as they enter territory--of the wilderness and the heart--as dangerous as it is beautiful, desperate to stop a twisted destroyer of worlds before his nightmarish fantasy becomes horribly real. Amid sorcery--the yearning for vengeance, or a power as potent and seductive as the heart of a singular, magical orchid?

This was a magical book, of the kind that isn't easy to write. Most of the mystical stuff here about shamans and spirit anacondas and so on might feel fanciful and ridiculous in other books. Here, it enhanced the rest of the story, lending it a feeling of inevitability that I felt covered some potential plot problems.

Will was a to-die-for hero. He was a very sexy and cute beta, a sweet and easygoing guy who, all the same exuded sex through every pore. Furthermore, he was perfect for Annie. I don't think anyone else could have admired her and understood her the way he did. He didn't seek to dominate her and he admired her guts, just what would have kept any man from really dominating her. Most importantly, he respected the fact that she felt she had to do certain things, things that might very well put them both in peril, and he didn't get angry with her because of it. When he wants to leave her behind in an island, out of danger, and she knocks him out until that becomes impossible? A lesser guy would be furious. He admires her for it.

Annie was a bit harder for me to like, basically because I didn't completely buy her motivations. I think the problem might have been that the author didn't really manage to convey the utter horror of her experience in Yavareté in Corisco's hands. She saysit was terrifying, but I never got a feeling for it, she never managed to make me shiver in identification. This meant that I didn't completely understand her compulsion to come back to Brazil to have her revenge on Corisco. My reaction was "What the hell are you doing here? Stay where you're safe!". And this is where the supernatural element, with all its air of inevitability came into play and helped me buy (at least a bit more) that she simply had to go back.

For all that I loved Will and Annie together, there was something missing in the development of their relationship. This book was such a fast-paced non-stop adventure, that there weren't enough quiet moments where they could talk and get to know each other better. Same with the love scenes: they were steamy (and came after a sexual tension so thick you could cut it with a knife), but they could have been much better with some talking incorporated into them. I'm not asking for JAK-like scenes, where they carry out long, involved conversations while in the middle of intercourse ;-) but I feel some verbal communication would have much improved these scenes. And the conclusion to their relationship felt much too abrupt. Action stops, and we go onto the epilogue, where they are deliriously happy and expecting a child. Sorry, but I wanted a scene where they actually discussed that they loved each other... a kind of emotional pay-off scene, if you will.

The whole plot about Corisco Vargas (yet another corrupt Latin American militaryman. Ever seen one sane, kind Latin member of the military in a romance novel? This is irritating.) and his plans about a Noite do Diabo (Night of the Devil) was where the mystical stuff was too much. The only good part about this subplot was how the author didn't make Corisco one of those almost all-powerful villains, invincible by anyone in the world except the hero and heroine. Nope, through Fat Eddie, we were shown how he actually came across as a nut, a ridiculous guy whose plans were by no means inevitable.

I very much enjoyed River of Eden and will definitely look for the author's backlist

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