Review of The Chronicle of Secret Riven by Ronlyn Domingue

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“I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil’d or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below–above the vaulted sky.”
(John Clare) 

Ordinarily, sequels are written to be the direct continuation of some epic novel that abruptly ended the reader with an unresolved crisis of some kind. For most conventional novels, that unresolved crisis is ostensibly both well-known to the reader and very tactile in form. Yet, the first novel of Ronlyn Domingue’s  allegorical fantasy series Keeper of the Tales trilogy is antithetically much more subtle with how it presents this unresolved crisis, insofar that the reader is never really aware of what shape this unresolved crisis of the series till the end of the brilliant sequel Chronicle of Secret Riven. In the same vein, you will not even become immediately aware of how the story-line for this story- distinctive in plot and character from the first novel- connects logically back to the first novel.

For the meticulous reader, this is where Ronlyn Domingue rewards you because there are so many layers of different types of plot-lines in this novel. Just so you have a better sense of what I am trying to convey, think of each separate plot line as a different strand, so-to-say. While each strand can be isolated, the strands of different types of story lines running throughout this novel- each intricate, disparate element- fuses together seamlessly by the novel’s end, and we are left in  inconclusive darkness of the greater mystery that will continuously elude the reader past the last page of this finely shaped novel.

Rather than belabor this review with ridiculously stuffy, inscrutable abstract language (trying to put in words the beauty of this novel), the main plot-line- the surface story- takes place approximately 1,000 years after the events of The Mapmaker’s War. This serves as the only clear, chronological tether that ties the first two books of this series. Beyond that, we are left with the dizzying, disorienting, and enigmatic psychological landscape of the main character, Secret , who is endowed with the mysterious gift of being able to communicate in a telepathic sense with the plants and animals of her world that is progressively becoming more and more industrial in its design. While The Mapmaker’s War seem to allegorically be set in the same medieval era where Pagan Europe was slowly, but surely being usurped by impervious force of Constantine’s form of Christianity, this novel seems set at the threshold of the Victorian Era in England, right around the time when many poets in England, fittingly named the Romanticist Poets were lamenting the emergent industrial age of human civilization.

Breathtakingly, this novel begins to have many complicated story-lines that cohere magically with one another: these story-lines include a paternal story about the turbulent relationship between Secret and her mother, the complex relationship of Secret and her various friends, the very mysterious friendship she shares with the crowned prince, and the tense, distant relationship she shares with “FewMany,” the oxymoron-named owner of the biggest industrial enterprise within this universe. In many ways, he serves as our antagonist, though this and the other complicated elements of this novel are not didactically expressed to us, which is really a strong element in this novel. And, this is the novel that really shines the most with how it is so audacious, yet subtle in the way the author Ronlyn Domingue presents these elements to the reader, challenging the strong-minded, scrupulous reader to really pay close attention to certain recurrent elements and small morsels of foreshadowing that will hint at things to come within the series.

One of the most mesmerizing bits of this novel, though, continues to be the very strong, even paradoxical development of the feminist heroine. Rather than generically shape the story’s main character as a excessively muscular, exceedingly masculine shero, Secret is really much more dynamic than that, as she is pacifistic at heart, and her touted strengths are more emotional and psychological in nature, granting the smart reader a breath of fresh air by allowing us to finally read a novel that exemplifies the strength of pacifism. As a strong pacifist myself (and feminist thinker to boot), I really connected with Secret’s struggle, which is presented so well in this novel, and none of the other characters in this novel, with different values or character strengths, are never delineated in anyway. Ronlyn Domingue grants all her characters a certain psychological fluidity, allowing them to subtly show different shades and layers of depth to themselves.

Another element that I greatly enjoyed was the ecocritical thread  of this novel. I can just see my well-respected English Professor (an ecorcritic herself of Percy Shelley and Mary Shelley’s writing), revering the way Ronlyn Domingue allows nature within this novel to be personified, only through the sensitive mind of a character that has a certain sharp mental proclivity towards paying attention to the nuances of the relationship of the natural forces within the world within and without her civilized society. Nature presents itself as a very strong, mysterious character in this novel, and nature appears in many different incarnations within this novel, and communicates itself in a very cryptic way to Secret, who of course, must hide her uncanny ability of connecting deeply with nature and recognizing nature as a complex, sacrosanct force away from the industrial-minded/utilitarian world of the civilized kingdom she lives in.

Beautiful reading of John Clare’s poem “I am,” which will resonate with readers of this book!

Amazingly, Secret’s psychological struggle mirrors that of British Romanticist  Poet John Clare, whose poems often conveyed his tumultuous psychological state,  strove to coexist in the realms of both the uncivilized world of nature and the civilized, structured world of human civilization.  Of course, John Clare finds himself in a mental asylum, because his own deep vexations and sadness over the vanishing realm of nature, undisturbed by civilization, was vanishing as more factories began to appear and towns in England began being built with large, prodigious walls surrounding these towns. To the sensitive poet, there is nothing more troubling to the creative spirit then feeling like the world of nature is slowly vanishing, in favor of civilized structures.  In the book, this sorrow of feeling divided between both polarized spheres of the world causes Secret untold trauma, and this is something that is evoked beautifully in this novel in the same way John Clare once eloquently described it in his somber, though starkly beautiful poem I Am.

Impressively, Chronicle of Secret Riven manages to combine so many different types of story, making it an extremely multifarious novel. On one level, Secret’s story is a coming of age story, and on another level it is a story about trying to adapt to a world of convention, even though one’s mind is swarming with unorthodox thoughts. Moreover, it could feasibly act as a story of an introvert, striving to live in a world that progressively honors and reveres more extrovert, boisterous personalities, who are able to excel in a more industrial world. Yet, the story neatly could also work as a narrative about the estranged Pagan or poet, trying to live in two polarized realms of the world-the world of nature and the world of civilization. Simply put, this novel is very versatile, and the author allows this versatility to naturally surface in her writing, all due to her exceptionally subtle way of writing.

At the end of Chronicle of Secret Riven,  we are left with ambiguous silence and mystery, surrounding what will happen in the next novel. Ronlyn Domingue never feels a need to contrive a less subtle, more expository ending of sorts, which tries to condescendingly grant all the readers answers. Rather, the novel is tipped towards mystery from the beginning, and continues to immerse itself ever the more deeply in the realm of ineffable, where only skilled writers of mythology can transport our minds. It leaves the inquisitive reader with more questions than answers, and you can bet that this novel also leaves the reader wandering aimlessly in awe and wonder over the mysterious world that we inhabit ourselves. Putting this book down will feel like being ejected from the most mystifying dreamworld, and you’ll immediately wished to be re-immersed sometime soon into this evocative, lovely story that Ronlyn Domingue has such a fine talent for crafting!

And remember, devoted readers of my blog, Ronlyn Domingue has kindly accepted my invitation to have an hour-long chat this upcoming Tuesday about her newest installment to the Keeper of the Tales Trilogy! Just click this bold-faced message to be taken to the appropriate Google Hangout on Air page, where you can RSVP for this event and leave any preliminary questions you have for the writer! Whether you have read any of her books before or not, you are all welcome to partake in what will surely be a very stimulating conversation!!

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