The next best thing in Young Adult fantasy comes from the author of A River Enchanted and A Fire Endless. Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross is a brilliantly immersive, beautifully heartwarming romance that dives deep into the trenches of wars and darkness.
Perfect for fans of Shadow and Bone, the story weaves magic and a brutal war amongst gods to underscore a tale about the people preserving the kind of history that matters. The main characters, Iris Winnow and Roman Kitt are columnists working at a local newspaper, often competing for the same stories. But when grief strikes in Iris’ life, she packs up her belongings and flees to the frontlines to reconnect with the only remaining relative she has left—her brother. Amid all this, Iris finds a profoundly precious connection with a stranger through a magical typewriter passed down from her grandmother, building a friendship with him based on pure transparency. This is a romance, after all, and surely it’s easy to predict who’s behind the other end of the enchanted keys.
Written in the third person point of view with dual perspectives, Rebecca Ross’ Divine Rivals allows readers to understand all the inner workings of both the main characters and those who cross their paths. The friendships that Iris makes during her time near the battlegrounds are lovely to read about, making the side characters just as influential as the leading players. When it comes to fantasy as a genre, readers often look for different things—I, for one, prefer a little less world-building because it doesn’t confuse me as much—and Divine Rivals features the right amount that permits the imagination to run wild with the characters.
The same can be said about the rivals-to-lovers trope in fantasy romances because the animosity often lasts too long or ends too quickly, completely disregarding why they are rivals in the first place. But Ross’ Divine Rivals strikes the perfect balance, keeping readers invested in the same love story through different arrangements. At the same time, when dealing with a pen pal trope where one eventually figures out the other’s identity sooner, the big reveal tends to drag, causing more miscommunication between the pair. Yet that isn’t the case here either—everything falls into place in due time.
It’s imperative for fantasy series to maintain focus on the romance while simultaneously developing their main characters outside of the relationship as well. Ross understands this detail and explores their journeys with careful attention in honoring complex themes centering around grief, the ramifications war often leaves on innocent lives, career-based heartaches, and overcoming traumas. There’s a maturity to the characters that are so appropriate for the time period and the genre that feels incredibly organic, making the romance all the more endearing. Finally, perhaps one of the most satisfying details within the novel is how Ross emphasizes the importance of writing as a means to cope. In more ways than one, Divine Rivals is also a love letter to journalism, what vital reporting can achieve, and how words can heal old wounds.
Rebecca Ross is undoubtedly an author to look out for, both in Young Adult fiction and the fantasy realm. Her prose are utterly mesmerizing, and for a novel that takes place in autumn, she captures the magic in the air marvelously. And while Divine Rivals leaves off on a heart-pounding cliffhanger, Ruthless Vows, releasing on December 26, 2023, will continue the Letters of Enchantment series. And thankfully, with the romance genre, we can be confident that Roman and Iris’ love story is only beginning.
Divine Rivals is available for purchase wherever books are sold.