The Waterfall Traveler is a young adult fantasy novel that I picked up last year after seeing the author do a cover reveal on the Books Go Social Facebook page. It looked stunning, so I kept my eye on it and ordered the paperback when it was finally released. Still, due to my enormous TBR pile, it’s taken me this long to get to it. But honestly, it was worth the wait.
The story focuses on Ri, a teenage girl who has been raised in a small village on an island cut off from the mainland. Samuel, the man who raised her, found her when she was just a child on his travels, so both of them are outsiders to the village, even though they’ve lived there for years. To make matters worse, Samuel has the Sickness (which initially seems like a form of dementia) and often goes wandering off on his own. After one of these episodes, he wanders into the forest surrounding the village. When Ri finally finds him, he tells her about a boy who travels back and forth through the waterfall. She dismisses it as one of his fantasies and sends him home while she stays to try and gather some food. However, it’s not food she finds. In the dark part of the forest, she discovers a human skull covered in slime. Before she can analyse it properly, a man steps forward and goads her, with the intent of taking the fish she’s caught. Ri doesn’t give in, but a strange noise sounds around them and he tells her to flee. She does, but injures herself and collapses by the river.
Sometime later, she awakens to see a boy around her age attempting to treat her wounds. Initially, she tries to ward him off, panicking about how long she’s been unconscious due to her need to look after Samuel, but she relaxes enough for him to patch her up. Yet the danger she faced is still lurking, and they both find themselves under attack by an unseen foe. Ri is shot with a poisonous dart, so with no other choice, the boy gathers her up and takes her through the waterfall to his home on the other side.
Three days pass before Ri finally wakes up, but the boy — Bryce — tells her truthfully that he cannot simply take her back because the gateways between waterfalls change with the moon, and so the path to her island is cut off for another month. In a panic, she attempts to escape the cave Bryce lives in, only to discover the smooth-talking Carter coming to pay his best friend a visit, and to arrange the delivery of herbs Bryce gathered in the forest to certain city guards. Giving in, Bryce agrees to let her accompany them up into the streets of the city, where she discovers the huge divide between the rich and the poor, as well as the devastating news that Samuel is a wanted man there, accused of a crime she cannot bring herself to believe him capable of. And then there is the news of the Culling, a faceless danger attacking the city.
I won’t lie about this book – at first, I thought I wasn’t going to like it because I found Ri irritating and far too impulsive to be practical. However, she grew on me quickly, especially when it came to interacting with the other main characters. The book is all from her point of view, so it was interesting to be privy to the private thoughts she had about everyone. All the characters in this book are strong, with concerns so specific to them that their actions felt completely justified, even if Ri didn’t agree. Most of the hints weaved throughout the story about what was really going on linked together solidly in the conclusion, though as The Waterfall Traveler is the first book in a series, some were left open. The plot itself was well thought out, and the world building was so rich I felt like I could stroll inside the pages. Though perhaps not at one of the more perilous parts.
Another thing to note about this book is that it’s an indie, but it truly reads every bit (if not better, in some cases) as books by bigger publishers. So, if you’re unsure about reading a book that’s been self-published, I’m inclined to say give it go. I’d happily press The Waterfall Traveler into everybody’s hands if I could, and I know from experience that it’s not the only book that deserves more press than it’s had so far.
If I had to describe it in a word: enchanting.