Reading Guides

The River of No Return
Bee Ridgway
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“You are now a member of the Guild. There is no return.” Two hundred years after he was about to die on a Napoleonic battlefield, Nick Falcott, soldier and aristocrat, wakes up in a hospital bed in modern London. The Guild, an entity that controls time travel, showers him with life’s advantages. But Nick yearns for home and for one brown–eyed girl, lost now down the centuries. Then the Guild asks him to break its own rule. It needs Nick to go back to 1815 to fight the Guild’s enemies and to find something called the Talisman.

In 1815, Julia Percy mourns the death of her beloved grandfather, an earl who could play with time. On his deathbed he whispers in her ear: “Pretend!” Pretend what? When Nick returns home as if from the dead, older than he should be and battle scarred, Julia begins to suspect that her very life depends upon the secrets Grandfather never told her. Soon enough Julia and Nick are caught up in an adventure that stretches up and down the river of time. As their knowledge of the Guild and their feelings for each other grow, the fate of the future itself is hanging in the balance.


Bee Ridgway grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts. She attended Oberlin College (B.A.), then worked for a year as an editorial assistant at Elle magazine. She studied literature at Cornell University (M.A. and Ph.D.). She has worked at Bryn Mawr College since 2001. She lives in Philadelphia, PA.


  1. Throughout the novel, Nick struggles to reconcile his knowledge of the future with the tide of the past. What do you think he finds to be the most difficult adjustment and why? What would be the greatest challenge for you, personally?

  2. When do Nicholas Falcott and Nick Davenant seem to be the most similar? How much of Nick’s personality is determined by his location in time and space?

  3. After learning that she is the talisman, Julia worries over the different meanings of the word and even fears for her life. Do you agree with the choice Ignatz made to keep her in the dark about her origin and her powers? In what sense of the word do you think Julia most embodies the talisman?

  4. Nick’s return to his natural time affects his sisters in many ways, limiting certain freedoms while affording them power. What do you make of Clare’s idea for a model community and Arabella’s desire for education? Are these women trapped in their historical context? Or in what ways, if any, are they able to swim against the tide of history?

  5. Time travelers harness emotions in order to travel up and down the river of time, and yet despair repels them. What implications does this have for human history, and why does Mr. Mibbs seem to be able to use despair to his advantage?

  6. At the Guild compound in Chile, Nick becomes close friends with Meg and Leo. But when Meg and Leo grow suspicious of The Guild, they decide to leave Nick behind, reasoning that he is not ready, and leaving him to assume they are dead. What do you think motivated their decision to desert Nick? What would you have done in their position?

  7. This novel presents many strong female characters, each of whom does what she can within her historical perspective. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of characters like Clare, Arabella, Alva, and Peter. As a time–traveler who has yet to travel in time, where do you think Julia fits within this spectrum? In what ways do you think she’ll continue to grow?

  8. Throughout the novel, various characters rely on objects to keep them emotionally grounded, or even to stay rooted in time. What symbolic differences do you see between the Guild members’ rings, Nick’s acorn, and Julia’s box of trinkets and fairings?

  9. At the end of the novel, Julia and Nick jump forward in time, and Nick sees a new version of the future. Castle Dar is standing, and so is the couple’s special oak tree. What else do you imagine is different, and what effect do you think Julia ultimately has on the past, present, or future?

  10. How do you imagine Nick and Julia will resolve the problem of the encroaching Pale? Can you see the Ofan and The Guild working together to save the future?