The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope by Rhonda Riley opens in 1944 when Evelyn Roe is seventeen. The U.S. involvement in World War II is at its peak, and Evelyn has recently graduated from high school when Evelyn’s great aunt Eva dies suddenly. As all of Eva’s sons are off fighting, and Evelyn’s only brother is a bit too young, Evelyn is tasked with taking over the family farm.
One night during a bad rain storm, Evelyn discovers a figure buried in the mud. Assuming that a wounded soldier has stumbled back from the war, Evelyn brings the figure into the house where she discovers that it is not exactly human but not entirely alien either. Within a few days, Evelyn’s charge has transformed into a tall, red-headed woman: the near identical twin of Evelyn. When a local boy is injured on Evelyn’s farm, she is forced to quickly invent a backstory for her new companion’s sudden appearance. The unnamed figure suddenly becomes Addie, Evelyn’s long lost cousin and the daughter of her father’s estranged half-sister.
Addie’s strange vocalizations and shape-shifting elements draw Evelyn in, and they become sexually involved almost instantly. After a couple of years, however, Evelyn finds herself longing for a husband and children. Sensing this, Addie seduces a passing stranger and takes on his likeness. Thus Adam Hope is born. Adam’s vocalizations have a calm, soothing effect, and he is quickly accepted by Evelyn’s family and small town. Several years go by and tragedy strikes, resulting not only in the emotional estrangement of Evelyn and Adam but also in the risk of Adam’s secret being revealed. What follows is the tale of how they attempt to make their way back to Adam being perceived as human and to the former closeness in their relationship.
Most critics have compared The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope to The Time Travelers Wife due to the common element of an intense romance filled with unexplainable events and secrets kept from everyone else. I found however, that it reminded me far more of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Though Gaiman’s book does not posess the romantic storyline that The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope does, it does have the otherworldly aspect. As with Gaiman’s novel, ordinary life is punctuated by elements that can not be easily explained. In addition, both books are told from the perspective of a person who finds themselves in the minority by being a normal human.
Readers of The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope may also be reminded of the 1984 film Starman. While Riley’s book and the film both involve shape-shifting aliens, I found the differences from Riley’s novel to outweigh the similarities. In Starman, it is made clear from the start that the storyline centers around an alien being, and he is in fact concious of his extra-terrestrial origins. In The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope, Addie/Adam have no knowledge of their origins, and the alien aspect becomes secondary to the main plot.
The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope is an adult novel. The descriptions of alien/human sex, while not as strange as the reader might imagine, are detailed. In addition, the novel does not shy away from loss, and character death is dealt with in a very frank and realistic manner.
The opening historical setting of the book was in my mind an excellent choice by Riley. Too much earlier in history, and the appearance of a shape shifter would have fallen prey to superstition and hostility. Too much later in history, and the author would have been forced to deal with the complications of a society that is dependent on a paper or electronic trail. In choosing a mid-World War II setting, Riley has picked just the right middle ground. Developments of the bomb and the rumors of German and Japanese advanced technology create a bit of believable leeway for an alien visitor. In addition, the element of the war created an environment where one could easily pass off the sudden appearance of new person as a returning soldier or a long lost relative.
Riley has created relatable characters that the reader will be able to easily recognize. The depictions of a small town in which the residents are suspect of everyone outside – and are not completely sure of those inside – are spot on. The reactions of the residents when confronted with evidence that Adam is different are precisely the attitudes one would expect to find in a small town. The polite but obvious distancing, the thinly veiled derision, and the secret gossiping are all written in such a way that it is clear Riley has drawn from personal experience.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope and found that the book was not at all what I expected. At first glance, I was uncertain and admittedly skeptical. A historical, science-fiction romance sounded far too absurd for the author to pull of in a believable manner; however, Riley manages to achieve exactly that. My primary criticism of the book is that the plot was a little slow in developing. It is clear once the book is finished that the early plot development is necessary to establish the foundation, but I did find myself wishing the pace would pick up a little. On the other hand, I did read this book in nearly one setting. I would encourage the reader to stick with the first several chapters as I found that, just as I was at the point where I was ready to give up, the pace picked up dramatically and from that point was a quick read.
The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope seems an unlikely candidate for a book that will stick with you long after the cover is closed, but I found myself repeatedly thinking about the characters and their choices. The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope is Rhonda Riley’s first novel, and I look forward to reading more of her works in the future.