Monday, March 6, 2023

Where the Water Flows, by Romola Farr

Romola Farr, ISBN 9798366879880, January 2023

The story starts with a natural disaster beginning in the small English town of Hawksmead, on the River Hawk. It then jumps back six weeks, as the primary characters are introduced.

Joel Redmond and Cadence Clearwater are two young American actors, arriving to begin their acting careers by studying at the Undermere School of Dramatic Arts--the USDA. They first meet on the train into Hawksmead, but Cadence isn't interested in getting better acquainted, for reasons we won't understand for a while.

Eleaonor Houghton is a retired opera singer, returned to her hometown to operate a tea shop--but an upsurge of a new coronavirus variant has limited activity. But Eleanor has a guest arriving, her godson, Joel Redmond. Ted and Heather run The Falcon alehouse, and have a few rooms above it. Cadence is staying there.

Abel and Christina, Lord and Lady Cornfield, have arrived for what's intended to be a short visit. Unfortunately, they and their helicopter pilot, Graham Ashton, meet up with Gary Burton, who also works for them, and Eleanor Houghton and her new friend, Ron Smith. Graham Ashton has the latest version of coronavirus, and collapses from it not long after landing. He has to be medflighted to a hospital, and the rest of them have to isolate. Ron and Eleanor stay in her home, because Eleanor quickly becomes too ill to stay alone, while Christina and Abel, along with Gary, stay at the Cornfield's property, after paying for Christina's brother and his husband, who had been staying there, to move to a good hotel.

These people all have intertwined histories that are far more complicated than one might expect.

Over the next few weeks, we get acquainted with these characters, their histories, their insecurities and strengths and sometimes their obsessions. We also get to know the town, which is having an unusually wet autumn. That last is an important detail. The land is getting waterlogged, the river was rerouted from its former channel below the town to a new channel,, more convenient for what was in the 18th century a cutting-edge mill, and a large oak tree by the "humpback bridge" over the river has been split, but not taken down, by a lightning strike. These things are the impending natural disaster.

The real heart of this book is getting to know the characters, and the characters getting to know themselves. Both Joel and Cadence have a lot to learn about themselves, and what their strengths, weaknesses, and real values. Eleanor Houghton and Ron Smith have to confront their past mistakes, who they are now, and whether there's a path forward for them. Gary Burton has to confront an awful experience a few years ago, and whether there's anything he values more than revenge. Abel and Christina are expecting a baby, and get caught up in the events growing from Gary's history, even as Christina is going into labor.

Ted and Heather, and also Malcolm and Audrey, Eleanor's friends whom Joel is staying with while Eleanor is ill, all wind up playing critical roles in these journeys of personal discovery and growth. It's well done, with well-developed characters, and I wound up caring about each and every one of them.

Definitely worth your time.

I received a free electronic galley from the author via Rachel's Random Resources.

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