"Compulsively readable from the first page" (Self-Publishing Review), The Way of the River is a captivating middle grade fantasy/adventure that emphasizes the power of friendship and communication, and encourages reflection upon our own interconnectedness with nature, to one another, and to all living beings.
"The forest is haunted and malevolent," they were told.
"Never, ever, enter it," they were scolded.
But they did.
And when timid Elinora and her intrepid younger sister Tillie—driven by curiosity and trusting in their hearts that the forest is a good place—dare to venture deep into the forbidden forest, they discover an abandoned wolfhound pup with extraordinary empathic abilities and in need of help. There in Kellandale Wood they also find themselves accepted into a mystical sanctuary teeming with animals...unwittingly unlocking a centuries-old family secret.
As they begin to unravel the circumstances surrounding the pup's abandonment, they discover what links their family to the forest, and the forest to the pup's own traumatic past. Along with their many friends, Elinora and Tillie must embark upon a perilous rescue mission to help the young wolfhound, who they call Henry, reunite with his canine family and work together to achieve what seems impossible—pitting themselves against a dangerous showman and ultimately revealing the truth of the legendary enchanted woods and the mystic river that flows through it. Perfect for readers drawn to stories such as Mary Stewart's The Little Broomstick, CS Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia series, or Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle.
Plot: The Wolton family manor, Kellendale, is 400 years old and surrounded by a malevolent (according to their parents) magical forest that 15-year-old Elinor and her impetuous, intrepid younger sister Tillie are forbidden to enter. What could be more alluring, especially after the girls see a strange man drop a parcel off a bridge into the river? There’s just enough intrigue to send the sisters into to the forbidden wood, full of wild animals, in search of the mysterious parcel. Elinor and Tillie discover a sentient forest and a community of unlikely empathic wildlife with abilities far beyond what they could ever imagine.
Prose/Style: A middle-school reading level and fast-paced action make this an easily accessible story for the 8+ contingent.
Originality: In this first book of the Kellendale Wood series, Spyker has carefully set the stage for an adventure in the spirit of C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, with an added emphasis on animal well-being and the interconnectedness of all living beings.
Character Development/Execution: Spyker draws her extensive cast of human and non-human characters sympathetically and adds detail and depth as readers go along, making them feel as if they are becoming close friends with the protagonists and their many relatives.
Blurb: Written for middle schoolers, The Way of the River is an adventure in the spirit of The Chronicles of Narnia, with an added emphasis on animal well-being and the interconnectedness of all living beings.
Date Submitted: July 07, 2021
"Henry deserves an immediate induction into the literary pantheon of canine heroes....Spyker delivers a strong message of inclusiveness, love, and respect for all creatures. When the plot moves from the shelter of the forest to the darker reality of Coddlefin’s circus (and animal cruelty), the kids’ good intentions only grow. A safe yet magical adventure with plenty of heart."—Kirkus Reviews
Five Star Review from Readers' Favorite
The Way of the River: Kellandale Wood (Book One) by Shan L. Spyker is surefooted in its message with a plot that will endear itself not only to young readers but to adults as well. Siblings Elinora Wolton, 15, and her younger sister, Tillie, 14, live in a country called Eldmoor, on a landed estate known as Kellandale. Her cousins, along with her Aunt Camille, will be staying with them until her father and her uncle finish the completion of the community school. Life is pretty normal for the two siblings, except that they are forbidden to venture into Kellandale Wood, which everyone believes to be bewitched. But when they witness a sack being thrown into the river, they itch to investigate and break the long-standing admonition not to enter the woods. Inside the sack is a wolfhound pup that they rescue and name Henry. Elinora and Tillie discover that Kellandale Wood is indeed bewitched but in a positive and enchanting way, as it allows them to communicate with Henry and other woodland creatures.Shan L. Spyker is so precise and simple with the characters in that she writes them with clear motivations that are reflected in what they say, and it does not complicate the message about our relationship with nature. Reading The Way of the River has transported me to my grade school age again. Creating a fictional country and combining it with spectacular sensory details, the story manages to create its own space that you can actually inhabit. It is the kind of setting that can pop up in your imagination. Elinora and Tillie both have childish spunk that is both appealing and relatable to young readers. In every way, this quietly majestic tale should be read not only for its message but because it is a triumph of good storytelling.—Vincent Dublado for Readers' Favorite ★★★★★
Self Publishing Review ★★★★½
Two curious young adventurers find themselves in the strange heart of a magical forest, and at the center of their own family secrets, in The Way of the River by Shan L. Spyker, the first book in the Kellandale Wood series. Despite a high-fantasy atmosphere reminiscent of Narnia and other incredible YA realms, this story remains a uniquely plotted tale, as well as deeply symbolic. The concept of nature being a source of untold power and strength, coupled with a healthy nod towards paganism and older belief systems, makes this novel impactful for a broad range of readers. The prose is accessible, the protagonist dynamics are touching, particularly between the girls and Henry, and the more whimsical aspects of this novel keep it balanced and compulsively readable from the first page.—Self Publishing Review