The first Riley Bloom book, Radiance was enjoyable but, as is often the case for the first book in a series, the amount of setting-up that was needed detracted a little from the book-specific plot. With Whisper there is no such issue, which meant that it could dive straight into the book’s storyline. It’s a fun plot, too, with Riley heading to ancient Rome to catch the soul of a gladiator caught in an endless repetition of his own downfall and learning a lot about herself in the process.
It’s Riley’s character development in Whisper that forms the strongest part of the novel. Alyson Nöel does a great job of making her protagonist realistic, and Riley has all of the angst and frustration that you’d expect of a young girl who died before she could achieve any of her goals in life – even the seemingly simple goal of turning thirteen! Here, however, Riley really starts to grow up a little. She begins to look beyond her own feelings and to make the first steps towards overcoming some of her flaws and, in doing so, becomes a much more rounded character.
I’m always a little wary of fiction set in ancient Rome, because I often struggle to disengage my classicist mind and can end up spending my reading time picking out historical inaccuracies instead of enjoying the plot. I didn’t find this to be much of an issue with Whisper, largely because Nöel seems to have (cleverly) avoided placing the story too firmly in its historical context and also because I had read the note at the end where she admits that she’s used literary license where the history of the novel is concerned. I’m a lot less picky when a book doesn’t claim to be historically accurate! I will say, however, that the number of times that the Romans were referred to as barbarians was a little irritating.
I wasn’t sure about Bodhi in the first Riley Bloom book, but I liked him a lot here, even if he wasn’t around much! It seems like he has also undergone some character development between the first and fourth books, so I shall be interested in reading the other two to see what caused it.
As for the plot itself, I enjoyed the idea of ghosts being endlessly caught up in the repetition of a brief part of their lives, and I thought the insight given into Riley’s character through the dream world that Messalina creates for her was very cleverly done.
Whisper is an enjoyable book and a great instalment in a series that is entertaining to adults and younger readers alike. And now I have to go back and read Shimmer and Dreamland!
(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)