The River Witch by Kimberly Brock (Bell Bridge Books; 239 pages; $14.95).
Kimberly Brock knows books; in fact, she loves them. Brock, a native Southerner and former actor and special needs educator, is the blog network coordinator at She Reads. She also reviews fiction and interviews authors on her website. Her intense love of storytelling is readily apparent.
It should come as no surprise to learn that Brock wrote her first novel when she was in fourth grade. As evidenced in her debut The River Witch, writing comes as naturally and as easily to Brock as reading and breathing.
In The River Witch, Brock focuses her narrative lens on Roslyn Byrne, a former ballerina now broken in body and shattered in soul. A car accident left Roslyn unable to dance again; a miscarriage left Roslyn hollow and in a kind of in-between world. She seeks solace on isolated Manny’s Island, Georgia, to escape the world and to finally bestow a name on her deceased baby.
Roslyn is a very sympathetic character, yet this reader never feels sorry for her. She is a strong woman who comes from a long line of strong women. Roslyn requires the use of a cane to help her walk. The cane provides physical aid to Roslyn, but it is also symbolizes her wounded psyche.
There are many, many issues Roslyn grapples with in the cabin she rents on the island. With the character of Roslyn, Brock has created a three-dimensional figure we not only relate to but also root for. Brock’s first-person perspective of Roslyn allows us to see her flaws, her disappointments, and her regrets; Brock also lets us see Roslyn’s triumphs. Her indomitable will is palpable and resonates throughout the story.
Roslyn is not the only broken creature on Manny’s Island. Ten-year-old Damascus Trezevant is a lonely and dejected little girl who aches for her deceased mother and her largely absent father. She is drawn to Roslyn, just as Roslyn is captivated by Damascus. In contrast to Roslyn’s narrative, Brock writes Damascus’ perspective in the third person. I like the difference. The distinction illustrates Brock’s range as a storyteller.
The beauty of The River Witch is in the complicated and beautiful ballet between Roslyn and Damascus. Damascus alternately displays both affection and spite toward Roslyn. Both principal characters have pent-up emotions that they must exhibit or everyone will suffer the consequences. Both of Brock’s protagonists ache for an emotional connection and a sense they belong.
One character who I would have liked to see more of is Urey, Damascus’ father. Mysterious, taciturn, introspective, sexy, and almost savage, Urey needs more of a presence in Brock’s story. Roslyn’s chemistry with him is powerful.
Since Brock is from Georgia, The River Witch is written in a distinctly Southern voice. I cannot imagine this novel being set anywhere else. In the story, sense of place is a formidable force. Manny’s Island is a locale that allows Brock to imbue supernatural elements into her story. The magic of the island and the magic of Brock’s characters will transform the land and its people forever.
Manny’s Island can sometimes be a wild and dangerous place. Snakes and alligators are abundant. The current of the Little Damascus River can carry novice swimmers into the Atlantic. Flooding is common. Yet the island is also a place for miracles, where a woman is healed, where a child is mended, and where the wrongs of the past are reconciled.
Brock is already at work on her second novel. If it’s anything like The River Witch, it will be a must-read.