What The River Knows by Isabel Ibanez: YA romance fantasy

What The River Knows is the first entertaining title in Isabel Ibanez’s young adult fantasy romance and adventure duology, Secrets of the Nile. Read my review.

What The River Knows Book Review

Publication: Macmillan Publishers, 2023.

Genre: Romance, Historical, Mystery, Adventure, Young Adult, Fantasy

What The River Knows Publisher Synopsis

Secrets of the Nile, Book 1

The Mummy meets Death on the Nile in What the River Knows, Isabel Ibañez’s lush, immersive historical fantasy set in Egypt and filled with adventure, a rivals-to-lovers romance, and a dangerous race.

Bolivian-Argentinian Inez Olivera belongs to the glittering upper society of nineteenth century Buenos Aires, and like the rest of the world, the town is steeped in old world magic that’s been largely left behind or forgotten. Inez has everything a girl might want, except for the one thing she yearns the most: her globetrotting parents—who frequently leave her behind.

When she receives word of their tragic deaths, Inez inherits their massive fortune and a mysterious guardian, an archeologist in partnership with his Egyptian brother-in-law. Yearning for answers, Inez sails to Cairo, bringing her sketch pads and a golden ring her father sent to her for safekeeping before he died. But upon her arrival, the old world magic tethered to the ring pulls her down a path where she soon discovers there’s more to her parent’s disappearance than what her guardian led her to believe.

With her guardian’s infuriatingly handsome assistant thwarting her at every turn, Inez must rely on ancient magic to uncover the truth about her parent’s disappearance—or risk becoming a pawn in a larger game that will kill her.

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My Review

Isabel Ibanez’s What The River Knows has been on my wish list since its October 2023 release. The allure of historical mysteries set in Egypt – from Agatha Christie’s iconic Death on the Nile through to Elizabeth Peters’ much loved Amelia Peabody series – is hard to ignore. And, while not typically a reader of young adult fiction, I was in the mood for an escapist read. On that score, this novel did not disappoint.

What The River Knows is bursting with fun and entertaining tropes. Isabel Ibanez treats readers to opulence, luxury and adventure in exotic locales, scheming and enigmatic characters, competing localities, dangerous races to find things lost and answers to perilous questions, plus a sprinkling of magic and a rivals-to-lovers romance.

“Mamá expected me to observe the proprieties, no matter what I personally believed. Sometimes, though, rebellion beckoned like a siren, and I couldn’t resist.”

I do enjoy feisty female leads, and leading lady Inez Olivera is most certainly that. For the most part, her stubborn streak and recklessness is highly amusing within the historical societal context. By that I mean the extent to which it makes things difficult for her loyal but bravado-filled male minder and adds spark to their bickering.

“He jerked his chin in the direction of the boat, as if it were a foregone conclusion that I’d follow after him like an obedient lapdog. No, sir.”


While the lead characters’ actions are based on principles of substance and honour, the characterisation is thin in places and physical descriptors at times repetitive. For example, I noted repeated use of the terms ‘brawny’ and ‘lounging’ and uncommon focus on the colour of a suitors eyes. I think the term YA aficionados would apply to the latter is ‘swoonworthy’.

But, as long as readers go into What The River Knows expecting a highly accessible, easy to read narrative, rather than literary prose, hours of light and wonderfully escapist entertainment awaits.

I will end this recommendation with a warning though… be prepared for a brutal cliff-hanger! Thankfully, we do not have too much longer to wait for the conclusion to this Secrets of the Nile duology, with Where The Library Hides scheduled for publication in November 2024.

My Rating

Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

Get your copy of What the River Knows

I purchased my copy from eBooks.com, but it’s also available from these retailers:

Bookshop US Amazon Booktopia AU

What The River Knows is the type of story that would be great in audiobook. Listen to the audio sample at Libro.fm.

Secrets of the Nile #1

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