Review: Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

Sent in 1910 to live with distant relatives who own a rubber plantation along the Amazon River, English orphan Maia is excited. She believes she is in for brightly colored macaws, enormous butterflies, and “curtains of sweetly scented orchids trailing from the trees.”

Her British classmates warn her of man-eating alligators and wild, murderous Indians. Unfortunately, no one cautions Maia about her nasty, xenophobic cousins, who douse the house in bug spray and forbid her from venturing beyond their coiffed compound.

Maia, however, is resourceful enough to find herself smack in the middle of more excitement than she ever imagined, from a mysterious “Indian” with an inheritance, to an itinerant actor dreading his impending adolescence, to a remarkable journey down the Amazon in search of the legendary giant sloth

I’ve just had the adventure of a lifetime, traipsing about the Amazonian Jungle with Mrs Ibbotson as my official guide. All without a plane ticked or my passport.

Now that I’ve finished Journey to the River Sea, I want nothing more than to pack my bags and run away to Manaus. I want to see this vibrant, vivid world for myself. Just like our protagonist Maia, I want to see the Rio Negro and the Amazon River. I want to swim in that very point where these two rivers meet – that borderline between the dark Rio Negro and the murky, sandy Amazon. I want to canoe up the winding waterways with Fin, underneath a dappled canopy of foliage teeming with exotic wildlife. I want to watch Clovis on stage at the Manaus Opera House, fan in hand against the stifling, muggy atmosphere.

Basically my new bad day antidote, Journey to the River Sea is a sweeping adventure along the Amazon with an eccentric cast of characters and a plot expertly shrouded in mystery. I mean, this is the kind of book they should teach in school. Journey to the River Sea’s gripping and compelling – guaranteed to spark an interest in the Amazon Basin and sure to become a modern classic.

Image result for the amazon river

Journey to the River Sea harks back to a period of exploration and escapades, reminiscent of those classic adventure novels. Set in the early 1900’s, the narrative oozes a vintage, almost timeless feel. So it’s all too easy to forget that Journey to the River Sea was actually published at the turn of the twenty-first century. The modern world just melts away as Eva Ibbotson’s understated almost no-nonsense voice sweeps you off to a world of corsets, petticoats and parasols.

When we first meet our protagonist Maia, she is orphaned and alone with a hefty inheritance from her parent’s estate. Considering the fate that usually befalls London’s orphans [i.e. the workhouse], Maia is fiercely optimistic and it’s not long before her optimism is rewarded – with a one-way ticket to Manaus, Brazil. So, with her new governess Miss Minton in tow, Maia journeys along the Amazon to her distant cousin’s sprawling rubber plantation. But Maia’s high hopes for adventure are dashed when, in true Cinderella fashion, The Carter’s bar her from the jungle and look to exploit her allowance.

And, just when you start to find your feet, Ibbotson sweeps the rug out from under you as her complex plot thickens. It’s not just the Carters and their vicious, spoilt twins that Maia needs to be weary of – there’s an unclaimed inheritance, a missing savage boy and a case of mistaken identity.

Image result for the amazon jungle

Maia herself is a charming protagonist. She’s resourceful, she’s intelligent and kind – I just adored her character. But while Maia might feel like what could only be described as a typically “classic” heroine don’t make the mistake of confusing her for a Mary Sue. Ibbotson rounds her character’s determined resourcefulness with flaws. Maia can be impulsive and her curious nature often leads her into scrapes. But it’s Maia’s determination, her ability to look for the best in people that makes her such a lovable heroine.

Then there’s Miss Minton – the eccentric, no-nonsense governess who is a downright BOSS. Move over Mary Poppins. Miss Minton comes across as standoffish and aloof. She’s one tough cookie to crumble but underneath her resolve and secrets, Miss Minton is fiercely protective of Maia. Also, Miss Minton has a deep hatred for her corset, she doesn’t take smack from anyone and she carries around a trunk of books. Enough said, am I right?

Reminiscent of childhood classics like The Secret Garden or Treasure Island, Journey to the River Sea weaves a deeply nostalgic narrative. The exotic world of the Amazon Basin is practically pliable – a fully fleshed character in itself. You can hear the rustling foliage and the gentle lapping of the river as you read which makes for a truly vivid experience. The eccentrically drawn characters leap off the page and Iva Ibbotson’s no-nonsense prose is riddled with witty, tongue-in-cheek humor. Basically, Journey to the River Sea is beautifully written ode to the Amazon – an epic voyage brimming with adventure. I cannot recommend this charming book enough.


4 thoughts on “Review: Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

  1. Alexandra!! I was reading your review and it’s so lush that it made me want to reread the book, no exaggeration haha! 😂 Also Miss Minton is the COOLEST. And I remember I wanted to be more like Maia whenever I read it (I still do now)

    Liked by 1 person


      I don’t know about you but sometimes when I love a book, the review will just bleed out of me. Other times, even when said book was a five star read, I just can’t find the words or the perfect tone to convey my feelings. This review was 100% the latter. I procrastinated over it for a good week and made about seven edits! I’m so glad that after all that, that hard work paid off! ❤ x

      Liked by 1 person

      • YES omg I feel you about it!! Sometimes when books are so good, it’s hard to get the right words to convey its goodness ❤


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