Guest Review: River in the Galaxy by Natalie Kelda

by Bill Adams


When Merlon’s parents disappeared, his world fell apart. When his best friend died, he lost the ability to enjoy life.

For Captain Merlon Ricosta, Lanier’s death, two years prior, feels like yesterday. But when a map from his parents is discovered, he decides to push aside his grief to get closure and follow the route they vanished along eighteen years ago.

Despite political trouble, Merlon leads his crew into the unknowns of strange galaxies in his quest to find out why his parents never returned.

In River in the Galaxy, Merlon fights to keep his crew alive and suppress his prolonged grief and depression. But he must face his own struggles in order to protect the ship and the people aboard.


River in the Galaxy is the first book in the overarching Inner Universe series (a book opus so far consisting of 1 duology, 2 trilogies, and 2 standalones, plus a potential 3rd trilogy, per Ms. Kelda) and the first of the duology within said series. A mash-up of fantasy and sci-fi, this is a story about exploration, personal discovery, and, ultimately, a freeing of past demons.

Told exclusively through Merlon’s point of view, his story unfolds eighteen years after his parents have disappeared, but a hint of their destination comes into his hands in the form of a map that depicts a “river” in the galaxy in which they had headed. For Merlon, he wants closure. Aboard his ship, Lucia, Merlon and his trusted crew of space sailors, plus a few unwanted but by the end of the book much needed trainees, embark on a journey not only of unknown space, but one of growth.

This isn’t your run-of-the-mill explorers in a strange new world trope. I mean, it is that trope, but it is literally wooden boats in space. Repeat it with me: wooden boats in space. Ms. Kelda introduces a concept of “breathing wood”, and this nugget of worldbuilding is how a classical fully-rigged sailing ship can fly through space while the crew can be above decks without space suits. Not to mention sails that harness energy for flight, I mean, how is this not a fresh and exciting concept? It drew me in straight away. Seriously, who wouldn’t want Master & Commander: Far Side of the Galaxy? But it’s also straight up fantasy; there are portals that use powders, there are swords/cutlasses, bows and arrows, spyglasses, and dastardly brands with magical spells.

Now, this “river” is almost like an unexplored tunnel with unknown creatures within. Picture it like an underwater exhibit at the aquarium but instead of glass, the barrier is made of fog that entices you inside while also allowing the nasty creatures to ram into you like orca whales and yachts. The only people to have ever gone through this river were Merlon’s parents, and they never returned, so this is a journey into unchartered waters (pun intended). And once through, there is nothing but blackness and a few strange floating cities, which should be mentioned are as interesting and original as the ships. They aren’t like space stations as we think, but more like actual ports and cities with orchards and water sources, the aforementioned breathing wood also creating an atmosphere surrounding the cities. It’s all very cool stuff.

I’ll be honest, throughout the first seventy-five percent of this story, it is more low stakes, but that is not a bad thing. Certainly some things happen, crew are lost along the way, but there aren’t big set pieces (except one explosion) or battles. And while that might turn some readers away, it didn’t for me and that’s because the cast of characters aboard Lucia are wildly engaging. This story is all about its characters. Merlon is determined and stubborn in equal measures, but most of all, he is extremely fallible. His actions had me shaking my head at times, wondering why in the galaxy would he make such dumb mistakes (but he did get injured quite often, so there’s some karma for him). Adrien, the been-there-done-that first mate, was both pseudo-parent and voice of reason. Tara, the navigator trainee and Merlon’s childhood friend turned antagonist then back to ally, was a perfect foil for our brash captain. Patrice, Fabian, Mira, Daltarr, and the rest of the crew all brought their own foibles and eccentricities to this story that made for great reading. And it was in their interactions that drove this story, giving plenty of dramatic tension.

When Merlon and his surviving crew finally reach Ivory – a mysterious floating city where its people have blue hair and clear teeth minus their even mysterious leaders – does the story begin to pick up steam in regards to action (this happens around the 50% mark but still takes a few beats to really ramp up). Not only does Merlon get some much deserved intel on his parents, but some nasty things happen to Merlon’s faithful crew and then we finally get to some naval (fitting I suppose?) battles in the dead of space. Throw in an unseen giant flying monster ripping boats to shreds and an unpassable asteroid field before Ms. Kelda slams us with a cliffhanging perfect ending.

Overall, this story is well paced, well written, and quite enjoyable. Not only is the worldbuilding on point, but it isn’t full of hard science (although the history nerd in me wants to know how they got the first wooden boats into space!!!) one might expect from a space-traveling expedition. Most importantly, this story is chock full of adventure. I definitely cannot wait to jump into the sequel.

About the Reviewer

When not writing, Bill is a product manager for a company that tests food using analytical chemistry and microbiology.

During his time at Indiana University, he began to develop his passion for writing, especially within the fantasy genre. It was there, he began to formulate the story that would eventually become The The Divine Godsqueen Coda.

Aside from writing, Bill loves movies and TV shows, especially geek stuff or fantasy. He likes to know all the useless trivia like who played who, and what the stories were behind the curtain. He is a master at Scene It. Bill’s few other hobbies include soccer, a good whiskey, a slice of pizza, and growing a beard. It is the little things he enjoys most.

Bill currently lives in the greater Chicago, IL area with his wife and young son.