“Book Review: Every River Runs to Salt”
Reviewed by Steph Huddleston
A mythic environmental fantasy with a stellar poetic voice
Every River Runs to Salt by Rachael K. Jones has one of the best opening lines I’ve read in a while. Not only do we get an immediate glimpse into Jones’s smooth style, but we also get started on the plot right away–with the mention of a person who has stolen the Pacific Ocean:
“I keep an ocean in a jar on my nightstand and a handful of coffee beans in my pocket.“
But soon after, the ocean-thief (Imani) dies, leaving her utterly normal roommate (Quietly) to fix the mess she’s left behind. In this fast-paced eco-fantasy novella, Quietly contends with angry gods beneath the surface of Athens, GA and does anything she can to save her friend.
The prose in this story is inventive on its own, but the content of the book is also about as fresh as it comes. We’re presented with personified states (like Washington, Oregon, and California), a mythology of a part-glacier girl, and an underworld with monsters. It’s one thing to create new worlds in speculative fiction; it’s another to fill them with such sharp conversations on environmentalism and activism as this novella does.
But it’s not only the concepts and the prose that floor me, it’s Quietly’s willingness to challenge herself and come face to face with the forces outside of her control.
The story doesn’t have long to establish itself at merely 86 pages, but the characters like Quietly leap from the page from the beginning, propelling us forward with originality and momentum. Every River Runs to Salt is refreshingly free of cliché and is guided by this distinct and lyrical voice I can’t get out of my head.
“She had the look of fever-dreams on her sweat-slicked skin, like ocean floor volcanoes boiling in the deep.“
“Stephens was so small and skinny you could probably butter biscuits with him if you were short a knife.“
While some readers may find the narrative somewhat difficult to follow at times, this is for the most part excusable. The prose has a clear purpose for telling a story, obviously, but it’s not its only goal—as the sound of each line remains reminiscent of poetry, of a need for a re-read even just to absorb the line again. It can feel at times as though we’re holding onto the plot with our fingertips, but we still refuse to let go.
Geographical entities, such as oceans or the state of California, are humanized and become actual characters in Every River Runs to Salt. I’m thankful that we have such a sharp stylist in Jones to tackle a difficult eco-fantasy task like this, as without her sweeping poetics, I’m not so sure we could have pulled it off.
For readers looking for a fresh speculative fiction with a stellar voice, this is definitely one to check out. The story has a romance, but it is not the driving force of the story. What we receive instead is a magical, mythical, and sweet tale filled with inventive worldbuilding, and a final product that’ll go great beside the ocean on your nightstand.
Publisher: Fireside Fiction
Print Length: 86 pages
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