Review: The River of Time series (Waterfall, Cascade, Torrent) by Lisa T.Bergren

Book info: 
Source: borrowed from a friend
Genre: historical fiction, fantasy, romance, christian fiction
Target audience: YA


Gabriella (Gabi) and Evangelia (Lia) Betarrini are two American teenagers who are leading truly exceptional lives. Not only their mother is an archeologist, specializing in Etruscan culture and history like their late father, but also the girls have an opportunity to spend almost every summer in Tuscany, Italy. Are they happy? Not at all. In fact they hate most of it. Why? No company of peers, let them be Americans or Italians, no funny parties or discos, getting up early in the morning just to go to another excavation site…little money…hard life for any teenager.

One day, however, everything changes. Their mother discovers an old Etruscan tomb called tumulus (or rather several tumuli but one really special) with some strange frescoes. The girls go secretly inside, place their hands on the walls in places strangely shaped like their own palms and bam – they time travel together to the fourteenth-century Italy. They land in the middle of a skirmish because at that time Italy was a country torn by civil unrests; they are forced by circumstances to join a little local war between two cities, Firenze and Siena. It only reflects of course a larger power struggle between Ghibellines and Guelphs, two factions that kept Italy divided and devastated during the greater part of the later Middle Ages…

Soon enough they fall in love with handsome knights, the cousins Forelli, Marcello and Luca (ok, Lia starts falling for Luca only in the second part but still) but they can’t help asking themselves whether such an infatuation makes sense at all. Will the medieval times satisfy them? Will they want return to their mother and contemporary America after some time? Will they decide to stay and lead a totally different style of living?

What I liked:

I agree it was a nice, pleasurable read, full of adventures from the very beginning. Each chapter holds new surprises, daring twists and serious decisions.

If you like Christian fiction, then I think you’ll be pleased with the progression of Gabi’s faith. If you don’t  like elements of Christian fiction then I don’t think you’ll be bothered at all because the whole God issue is hardly overly pushy. The presence of Christian elements is very subtle in all three parts and we even get one defrocked priest who doesn’t belong to any church. While Gabi slowly comes around to embracing the idea of God and God’s plan, the story stands just fine on its own. Taking into account the fact that the narration takes place in a very religious era in Italy it worked for me.

What’s more…the romance was well written for YA novels although I really wasn’t impressed by either Marcello or Luca; I am just content we were spared these obnoxious love triangles. I liked the fact that the author presented the dark beauty of the castle as well as the color and vitality of Siena and Firenze. We even have some glimpses of the contrast between the wealthy and poor but the whole difference wasn’t pronounced enough in my opinion. 
Finally I enjoyed the fact that Ms Bergren didn’t skimp over the violence and danger of that era. Gabi and Lia have to adopt very quickly and luckily both girls are no saints – they are willing to kill, maim, and impart mob justice that would be unimaginable in modern times. On the other hand both girls are subjected to terrifying, dangerous experiences straight from any Robin Hood movie (like being locked in a cage and left to starve to death in public) – small wonder they strike back without compunction.

What I didn’t like:

Ok, I’ve been accused time and again that I overanalyze YA books (and other books as well) and I think too much about quite unimportant issues. Such unfounded accusations, I know 😉 overanalyzing, who, me?

 I did have issues with the series, mainly stemming from the time-travel narration twist. I admit, time travel is a very difficult plot device to pull together; only few sci-fi authors managed to present it in a way that persuaded me. Unfortunately Mrs Bergren is not one of them. Instead of listing my grievances this time I decided to ask some questions and let my readers answer them or not (of course providing they’ve read the series) as they wish and judge my own approach. Here are the issues that bugged me most while reading this series:

· Gabi and Lia need each other to travel in time but they never ask why it works only for them – why not for their mum or anybody else? How come they are so special? How come they never question it?

· Gabriella arrives to the medieval Italy alone, without a horse, dressed like an ordinary contemporary teenanger – jeans, t-shirt etc. so hardly donning a  proper attire of a high-born Italian female of that time but Marcello immediately assumes she is a lady of noble birth. Why not a peasant or a merchant girl, though? What exactly made him think she was a lady? Her pretty face? Her demeanour?

· Gabi choses her side of the conflict very quickly just because a certain young man caught her fancy (Marcello) and the opponents are led by an old sadist with bad teeth and even worse breath. She never tries to find out more about the Ghibellines or Ghuelphs – what their aim is, who they represent, who is their real leader, what politics they want to implement etc. Isn’t it a bit naïve, even for a YA book? Neither her parents, scientists after all, nor her younger sister question her choice either…

· Gabi and Lia can communicate with the medieval Italians almost instantly; it is explained that their parents made them read Dante in original version some time ago…isn’t it a bit improbable, though? Similarly their own language (American English) is indentified by some nobles after a while…well, didn’t 14th century Britons speak rather differently than contemporary Americans?

· How come Gabi and Lia knew how to return to their medieval beaux without any clear indicator of which era you are traveling to, just counting seconds? Similarly how did they manage to get back to modern times America without missing some years or even decades? Pure luck?

· Why Marcello or Luca never asked their beloved Gabi and Lia to tell them more or even show them their times and their country, so modern America ? Too busy? Not curious enough? A bit afraid?

· Both girls seemed to miss comforts of life while camping in modern-day Italy with their mum but they rarely mention lack of current water, electricity, Internet, sewage system, toothbrushes, antibiotics and such while living in the medieval times. Too busy? Too infatuated to notice?

· Gabi decides to return to save her father, killed in a road accident, but never really ponder over the long-term consequences of her deed (like creating a second reality or disturbing the time continuum) – neither her nor other members of her family. Why? Too busy saving Siena? 

· Marcello has suffered several painful losses too – for example his older brother died prematurely as a result of torture and long imprisonment– but somehow he never suggest  saving anybody in the same way his fiancee brought back her dead father…so go back in time, grab him and run. Why?

Final verdict:

A nice series but one I am left conflicted about. There were some fragments which I truly enjoyed but I must admit it was also a bit too shallow from time to time. I suppose younger readers (like in their teens) might like it better than adults – it is definitely YA stuff.

What I discovered:

Yes, this series made me dig for some history tidbits I didn’t know and I am grateful – grazie!. Here is the result:

“Where do the names  “Guelph” and “Ghibelline” come from?

Frederic I Barbarossa and his sons King Henry ...Image via Wikipedia

The names “Guelph” and “Ghibelline” appear to have originated in Germany, in the rivalry between the house of Welf (Dukes of Bavaria) and the house of Hohenstaufen (Dukes of Swabia), whose ancestral castle was Waiblingen in Franconia. Agnes, daughter of Henry IV and sister of Henry V, married Duke Frederick of Swabia. “Welf” and “Waiblingen” were first used as rallying cries at the battle of Weinsberg (1140), where Frederick’s son, Emperor Conrad III (1138-1152), defeated Welf, the brother of the rebellious Duke of Bavaria, Henry the Proud. Conrad’s nephew and successor, Frederick I “Barbarossa” (1152-1190), attempted to reassert the imperial authority over the Italian cities, and to exercise supremacy over the papacy itself. He recognized an antipope, Victor, in opposition to the legitimate sovereign pontiff, Alexander III (1159), and destroyed Milan (1162), but was thoroughly defeated by the forces of the Lombard League at the battle of Legnano (1176) and compelled to agree to the peace of Constance (1183), by which the liberties of the Italian communes were secured. The mutual jealousies of the Italian cities themselves, however, prevented the treaty from having permanent results for the independence and unity of the nation. After the death of Frederick’s son and successor, Henry VI (1197), a struggle ensued in Germany and in Italy between the rival claimants for the Empire, Henry’s brother, Philip of Swabia (d. 1208), and Otho of Bavaria. According to the more probable theory, it was then that the names of the factions were introduced into Italy. “Guelfo” and “Ghibellino” being the Italian forms of “Welf” and “Waiblingen”. The princes of the house of Hohenstaufen, being the constant opponents of the papacy,  “Guelph” and “Ghibelline” were taken to denote adherents of Church and Empire, respectively. The popes having favoured and fostered the growth of the communes, the Guelphs were in the main the republican, commercial, burgher party; the Ghibellines represented the old feudal aristocracy of Italy. For the most part the latter were descended from Teutonic families planted in the peninsula by the Germanic invasions of the past, and they naturally looked to the emperors as their protectors against the growing power and pretensions of the cities. It is, however, clear that these names were merely adopted to designate parties that, in one form or another, had existed from the end of the 11 C.”

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12 Responses to Review: The River of Time series (Waterfall, Cascade, Torrent) by Lisa T.Bergren

  1. 14th century Britains, If they were upper class spoke French. 14th century English, if you spoke the London dialect, would have looked like Chaucer's English. Wasn't France the big European power at that time?I think Marcello could assume she was a noblewoman because she would have smelled of soap and perfumed shampoo, plus she would have been too dainty for a peasant.Marcello, being Christian, would not have wanted to change the past because that would be going against the will of God.

  2. Anachronist says:

    Thanks for your input, the Red Witch.Marcello didn't mention anything about the smell but you might have a point here – she was definitely cleaner than any peasant had right to be. I am not sure about dainty, though – Gabi was higher than most 14th century Italian women (and very rightly so, we are indeed getting bigger and bigger; she also could wield a sword.You are completely right about the language. They are supposed to be Norman and know old French but nobody is surprised when Lia and Gabi speak American English between themselves. I knew something was off.

  3. Blodeuedd says:

    Ok as long as it is not pushy, cos I hate pushy, and that makes me drop a book. Or stay away from them all together cos I fear them being preachy

  4. Anachronist says:

    It is not pushy, believe me.

  5. I don't think her size and readiness to fight would make her not dainty. Women were known to take up the sword when the men were away and Bohemond's sister was referred to by Anna Comnena as a female gladiator. But shock at sewage in the streets or people relieving themselves in the streets, need for cutlery at the table, inability to make cheese or bread would make them appear dainty and coddled like only an aristocrat could be.But language is a huge deal and, in the absence of Babelfish, authors need to deal with the challenge of communication between folks from different eras or risk looking like they didn't o their homework. It sounds like a good introduction to the era for a teen who won't be nickpicking over the details the way I have.

  6. Anachronist says:

    But shock at sewage in the streets or people relieving themselves in the streets, need for cutlery at the table, inability to make cheese or bread would make them appear dainty and coddled like only an aristocrat could be.You are of course right. The problem is that none of these could be observed on a battlefield when they (Marcello and Gabi) first met. He only saw a tall girl who could defend herself and wore strange clothes. I should add clothes improper for a female (trousers). A clean girl, I grant you, but also one without the proper retinue – servants, horses or guards – and without any money or jewellery on her. It surprised me that he immediately jumped to conclusions that Gabi was a lady; even if justified, it was a bit too early anyway.It sounds like a good introduction to the era for a teen who won't be nickpicking over the details the way I have.I agree.

  7. Okay, so originally I had a really long comment typed out, but then I deleted it and realized it didn't really matter. Sometimes in fantasy, things just are. Why explain vampires, werewolves, Time-travel, ghosts, etc… None of it exists anyway. Sorry it wasn't for you. BTW – I'm 28 years old…not a teen…still loved the books. 😀

  8. Well considering the time and where I'd be surprised if it didn't have any reference to Christianity. However, I've not heard it described as Christian fic. I haven't read these just yet, but I have also noticed that sometimes with this series, there is a bit of suspension of belief. Makes sense since I don't think many of us would survive the actual bit of time travel let alone living IN those times. :)Hopefully you'll find a YA historical type fic that will rock your socks off!

  9. Now that is neat when a book makes you want to learn more. 🙂 Cool.But as it sounds like a wonderful read, I don't think it's one for me. I'm not big on Christian reads. 🙂 But thank you for the great review.

  10. Wow, you sure read some fascinating books dealing with occupations and cultures I have never heard of before. Waterfall definitely sounds like something teens would like, but maybe not adults, or atleast not me. You never fail to teach me something new. 🙂

  11. Yikes – you are far more learned than me! That said, I'm still intrigued by this series. I read for escapism…pure and simple 🙂

  12. Anachronist says:

    Jen what a pity you deleted that long, long post…ok, I'll deal with what I have. In fantasy, yes, things just are and either you are fine with them or not. This series is a mix of fantasy and historical fic, though, mentioning time travel to boot, so it is not so easy to accept (or just reject) for me. If you want to add historical info, like a real history, not fantasy history, you are bound to do your homework as an author – you owe that much to your readers (of course such is my opinion only). It's not that this series was so totally not for me. If I were younger I think I wouldn't read it at all – nowadays I read far more YA than when I was in my teens, believe me or not. For escapism purposes, pure and simple, this series is fine. My problem is that I haven't found a way how to switch off my brain while reading such books…my bad.Melissa (BaT) there are elements of Christian fic in this one for sure. Gabi is rediscovering her faith in God e.g. When it comes to finding a YA historical fic, I will keep looking!Melissa (My World) – you are perfectly right, I found out I didn't know much about the whole Ghibellines and Guelfs division so I didn't hesitate to look for answers!Lena, thank you! I am learning new things as well – it is one of the perks!Melissa (isfo) I doubt I am more learned than you, perhaps more curious ;p. Do read this series and write a review!

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