Recent Reading: The River South by Marta Randall

You know I said a few days ago, before reading this book, “Oh, look, different protagonist, I wonder if Kieve is going to appear?”

The answer is, if you pay attention to the description, you can see that “Inet Kievesdaughter” is of course Kieve’s daughter. I didn’t look at the name, just registered it as “longish” and skimmed the rest of the description.

This by itself does not answer the question of whether Kieve appears. So:

a) No.

b) Yes, in a sense. Kieve herself does not appear, but she is nevertheless a strong presence in this book, through the letters she left for her daughter and through the perceptions and memories of older characters who remember her clearly.

Inet, the primary focal protagonist of this story, is thirteen when the novel opens and fifteen or thereabouts when it closes. She never knew her mother, or her father for that matter. She has been raised in a condition of reasonably benign neglect by the rider’s guild. I liked her a lot, and in fact she would be a good example to use when people are debating “likeability” and whether a character needs to be “likeable.”

My answer there is: Yes, absolutely, but “likeable” is not the same as “nice.”

Kieve wasn’t particularly nice, but I liked her. Inet is probably nicer than her mother, though still prickly and with a significant temper. She’s rather immature at the beginning (thirteen!), but Randall managed to write a fairly self-centered, occasionally impulsive thirteen-year-old protagonist who didn’t turn me off, which is quite a trick. Protagonists who fit that description are normally unbearable, but Inet is not that impulsive. Plus she feels a great deal more rounded and complex and complete than a lot of young MG characters. This is a significantly slower-paced story than any MG novel and that gives plenty of scope and time for the protagonist to develop.

Not just the protagonist either. Lots of interesting, complex, not necessarily likeable secondary characters as well, especially Kyst. The relationship between Kyst and Daenit went off in a completely unexpected direction, after which Daenit himself developed in unexpected ways.


a) Beautiful description. Really lovely.

b) A nuanced, complicated protagonist you can really get behind.

c) Complicated characters who feel completely real; complex human relationships that definitely do not follow expected pathways. Ten out of ten on this aspect. Extremely well done.

d) Enough overlap with the characters from the previous book that you feel thoroughly grounded in this world right from the beginning. More overlap as the story progresses, which I liked.

e) Great horses.

f) Clever use of absent characters, like Kieve, via letters and memories.


a) Ouch, painful character death(s). This is not, however, thrown in there as a gratuitous tearjerker. My impression is that Randall is setting up a situation with a different character that should echo into the third book.

b) The traveling medicine show thing may appeal to some readers. I hate that kind of thing. Ugh. I was so glad when that particular plot element was left behind.

c) Some truly inexplicable hints of magic that really don’t seem exactly integrated into the world, which is otherwise magic-free. This gives us a feeling of resolution that’s important during one scene at the end, but still, it does not seem to fit the world.

I’m sure there will be a third book; or at least, I’m sure a third book has been set up. I’ll be delighted when it’s released. However, the second book has enough of a resolution that there’s no reason to feel hesitant about reading it now.

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2 thoughts on “Recent Reading: <em>The River South</em> by Marta Randall”

  1. I haven’t bounced exactly, but when I picked it up and read a chunk after reading both versions of the predecessor, I just wasn’t interested in more of that right now. Also – personal quirk – narratives that begin with unnamed characters tend to put me off.

    I’m working down the aging ‘new’ collection instead. I’ll try it again later.

  2. I share that quirk!

    I got past that part fast enough not to mind it too much, and then forgot about it, but I think opening with an unnamed character is almost always a terrible idea; it’s often a dealbreaker for me. Plus it’s very often something one sees in a workshop entry, so to me it is a characteristic that suggests “novice writer, not very skilled” — which is not the case for Randall, but it is my immediate reaction to this particular feature of story openings.

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