River of Destiny by Barbara Erskine

This is the first Barbara Erskine novel I’ve read. Knowing how popular she is and that I usually enjoy the type of books she writes – books that combine history and the supernatural – I’ve been meaning to try one for a long time but have never actually got around to it until now.

River of Destiny is set in three different time periods, one contemporary and two historical. The contemporary story follows Zoe and Ken Lloyd, who have moved away from London and bought a converted barn in Suffolk near the River Deben where Ken can indulge in his hobby, sailing. Zoe is not very happy with the move as she does not share Ken’s passion for boats and has had to leave behind a job she enjoyed. To make things worse, she is starting to sense ghostly presences in and around their new home. Gradually Zoe begins to learn that some of these paranormal occurrences could be echoes of The Old Barn’s eventful past.

In the novel’s two historical storylines we learn more about the events of the past which are haunting Zoe in the present day. The first of these is set in the Victorian period and tells the story of Dan, a blacksmith who finds himself a target of the scheming Lady Emily Crosby. Dan’s involvement with Emily will have tragic consequences. The third storyline is set in Anglo-Saxon England in the year 865 where we meet another smith, Eric, and his wife Edith. Amid the threat of a Viking invasion, Eric has been asked to forge a special sword for his lord, which he calls Destiny Maker – but it seems that the sword will not be given the chance to fulfil its destiny.

These three stories all take place in the same area of Suffolk, although in different periods, and are linked by sightings of a ghostly Viking ship sailing up the River Deben through a thick mist. Of the three storylines the one I found the most compelling was the contemporary one, which I thought had the most interesting group of characters: the mysterious Leo who lives alone in The Old Forge, Rosemary Formby who is on a mission to prove that walkers should have the right to cross a farmer’s field, and twelve year-old Jade whose family own one of the other barn conversions, The Summer Barn, and who is determined to cause trouble for Zoe and Leo. It surprised me that the present day story was my favourite, as with my love of historical fiction I usually prefer the historical parts of multiple time-frame novels!

I enjoyed the first few chapters of the book and was anticipating a great read, but as I got further into the story I started to lose interest. I think the problem was that I just didn’t like the way the novel was structured. The time shifts were a bit too frequent and abrupt for me and I also thought the story was told using too many different perspectives. Sometimes each section would only be two or three pages long – or even less – which meant I kept being pulled out of the flow of the story just as I was starting to get interested in it. I’m sure I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if I’d been able to get fully immersed in one storyline and one set of characters before moving on to the next.

So, I was left with mixed feelings about River of Destiny and I’m not sure if I really want to read any of Barbara Erskine’s other novels. If you’re a fan maybe you can convince me to give her another chance?

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