The River Has Teeth by Erica Waters has been on my most anticipated July release list, and I am so happy that I got the chance to finally dive into this amazing, sapphic horror fantasy last month. It was everything the blurb promised: full of magic, a heaping of gothic horror, and an irresistible thriller/mystery to bind it all together.
Throw in some unforgettable characters, an eerily dark and angry atmosphere, and you get a feminist masterpiece that explores themes of grief and violence against women set in a YA horror/fantasy genre.
Natasha’s sister is missing.
Her car was found abandoned on the edge of a local nature preserve known as the Bend, but as the case goes cold, Natasha’s loss turns to burning anger.
She’ll do anything to find answers.
Della’s family has channeled magic from the Bend for generations, providing spells for the desperate. But when Natasha appears on her doorstep, Della knows it will take more than simple potions to help her.
But Della has her own secrets to hide.
Because Della thinks she knows the beast who’s responsible for the disappearance — her own mother, who was turned into a terrible monster by magic gone wrong.
Natasha is angry. Della has little to lose.
They are each other’s only hope.
Trigger Warnings: graphic violence, missing persons, death of a loved one, trauma, drug addiction (mentioned), blood and gore, sexual assault, self-harm, suicide
Ratings: 5 out of 5
I’ll start off by saying this is not the kind of book that will appeal to everyone, and frankly speaking, this is the sort of story that I believe will resonate strongly among those who identify as women. On the surface, The River Has Teeth is a spine-chilling occult horror, but at its core, the novel explores violence against women.
This is not simply a scary story. This is a story of rage and vengeance, of the mad, senseless violence in which women are always the first target.
Women spend so much time trying to make ourselves small so we won’t get hurt, or we make ourselves so visible our visibility becomes a shield.The River Has Teeth, Erica Waters
The novel follows the lives of Della and Natasha, two women who are haunted by traumas that–unbeknownst to them–are terribly interlinked. Della, a witch with earth magic, is trying to keep the townsfolk safe from her own mother who had somehow turned into a monster. Noone knows how it happened, only that the source of their magic had somehow become corrupted and out of control.
Natasha on the other hand, is on the search for her missing sister. In her desperation to rescue her sister, she winds up at the witch’s door, looking for answers.
What I loved the most about this story is how masterfully Erica Waters wove the experiences of these two characters and interwined their fates. Both Della and Natasha are women you cannot help but admire–they are strong, brave, determined and cunning. Admittedly, I loved reading from Della’s perspective more: she was always calm, level headed even when her entire life was unraveling right before her eyes, and had a wicked sense of humor.
Natasha on the other hand, was a very difficult person to relate to. Especially in her moments of blind fury, which came quite often. In fact, one might even say that Natasha was the true embodiment of feminist rage: while her anger was righteous and justified, on more than one occasion it was also out of control, causing her to lash out at her loved ones and jumping to conclusions.
In my personal opinion, this was a great exploration and a much-needed acknowledgement of how sometimes women tend to believe the worst in the world, because we are so accustomed to expecting the world to treat us in the worst of ways.
There will always be men in the world who want to control and hurt and kill us. Men who drug us and drive us off roads and hit us with their fists. Men who take girls and make them their toys. Men who gain pleasure from our pain.The River Has Teeth, Erica Waters
The plot itself is gripping, and riveting. A bit of Souther Gothic mixed in with the paranormal, The River Has Teeth is a fast paced New Adult thriller/mystery with the barest touch of sapphic romance. There’s never a dull moment; every page will have you hooked and waiting to see what happens next. After all, you don’t have just one mystery here, you have TWO: a young woman is missing, what in the world happened to her? There’s a flesh-eating monster in a magical piece of land that’s becoming haunted with monsters? Who, or rather what, could corrupt something as inscrutable as magic?
The diverse representation in this novel was another big bonus for me. I particularly enjoyed how there were several occasions where Natasha, a white woman, was called out and held accountable for carelessly putting her POC friend in possible danger. It’s something that needs to be addressed in our society more, and Erica Waters did this very cleverly: she weaved it into the story, as part of Natasha’s many flaws (including her anger management issues) rather than use it for character development or plot device.
Another motif that I loved while reading this book, was Natasha and Della’s search of a safe place. Throughout the novel, both Natasha and Della are living in constant and threat, with the Bend being their only place of refuge.
It’s an emotion that’s not very difficult to relate to; growing up as a woman means you grow up learning how to angle your elbows just the right way so no one can “accidentally” grope you on the streets, looking through the windows of a bus before getting on to make sure you are not the only woman inside, carrying your car keys in your fist as a make-shift self-defense weapon…the list goes on.
But in The River Has Teeth, in the Bend, Natasha and Della find refuge in magic, in channelling power to protect themselves against men who want to hurt them.
Here, we are witches and men are nothing. Here, the river has teeth.The River Has Teeth, Erica Waters
Overall, The River Has Teeth is a gripping, dark, angry Adult paranormal thriller that will have you hooked till the very end. If the trigger warnings above don’t bother you, then I strongly recommend you pick this one up!
Have you read this book? Share your thoughts in the comments below!