You should know at the outset that any new book that bills itself as a “fly-fishing novel” will get my attention. “The River King,” by Robert Romano Jr., is just such a book.
Romano is an old hand at writing fiction with a Maine outdoor theme. Almost as prolific as Paul Doiron, who pens Maine game warden adventures, Romano has produced five other books, most of which revolve around fishing and the Rangeley area.
“The River King” is about a young fishing guide, Harry, who struggles to find himself and manage his relationships in small-town rural Maine. His best friend, who also loves the western mountains and the Magalloway trout holes, gets in big trouble with the law. Torn between loyalty to his friend and his own instincts for self-preservation, as well as his love for his town sweetheart, Harry finds a solution. He does so with the help of his great uncle, a colorful Scotsman, who filled in the parenting gaps left by an absentee father and taught Harry fly fishing and the ways of the trout waters from the Magalloway to Parmachenee.
“The River King” is a wonderful read for a number of reasons. When it comes to sense of place and character development, Romano nails it. Add to this his authentic, detailed descriptions of the Rangeley area’s breathtaking scenery and abundant fishing waters, and you have a novel that does not let you go until the last page.
Here is a sample: “June is a moody month in western Maine. It is a month prone to overcast skies and sudden downpours that roll over the Magalloway Valley, preceded by shards of lightning and cracks of thunder echoing over the ridges and rills surrounding our lakes and rivers. Storms sometimes roll upward through New Hampshire’s Presidential Range, other times they sweep down from the North swirling off the Boundary Mountains that separate Maine from Canada.”
As the author explains in his prologue, this novel takes place in many real Rangeley places, although some of his towns are fictional. Having fished some of the Rangeley waters, I particularly enjoyed the way Romano plants his fictional anglers at some of these fabled angling haunts that are not fictional. He writes: “Below us, the current widened into a deep run, but above the hydro it compressed into a series of rapids that rushed over a line of huge boulders.” Those who have fished the Magalloway will recognize this piece of water.
This book meets my definition of a “fly-fishing novel” like few others, because of the precision and polished angling knowledge that the author weaves into this tale. Anyone who fly fishes for trout or salmon will appreciate the way Harry makes his fly choices and how he reads the water.
Equally laudable, besides the fly-fishing insights, is the fact that Romano, who is only a part-time, seasonal Rangeley resident, was able to probe beneath the surface of his characters and make them believable relying upon his keen insights into the rural Maine culture and its mores.
“The River King, a Fly-Fishing Novel,” by Robert Romano Jr., is published by West River Media, Grand Island, N.Y.