Journey to the River Sea

Style: Good

Attitude: Positive

In Brief: Entertaining and engaging. Caricature of crass and small-minded Westerners among sympathetic natives.

Cover of Journey to the River Sea

Author: Eva Ibbotson

Publisher: Macmillan

Published in: 2001

Age Range: Pre Teens+

Period: 19th C

Setting: Brazil

Genres:  AdventureFriendshipHistorical


  • Maia is an English orphan who falls in love with the country around the Amazon.
  • Miss Minton is Maia's upright, stern but affectionate governess.
  • Finn is a half-European boy who doesn't want to leave the Amazon to take up his inheritance in England.
  • Clovis is an orphaned and out-of-work actor who wants to return to England.
  • The Carters are Maia's distant relatives who take her in, greedy for the money she brings.


Maia is an orphan who goes with her new governess to live with her nearest relatives in Brazil in the city of Manaus on the Amazon River, a city made rich by the local rubber plantations. On the way she meets Clovis, boy actor of a failing theatre company, who wants nothing more than to return to England. The relatives Maia is to stay with are good-for-nothings: the father, a poor businessman, spends money on his grotesque hobby of collecting eyes; the mother wages fanatic war against the insects that plague the house; the twin daughters, Maia's age, are spiteful and greedy. Finally, Maia meets Finn, the son of the dead naturalist Bernard Taverner and his wife, a native of the Amazon. Finn is being sought by detectives from England who want him to come to England to fulil his role as heir of a noble house; he wants nothing more than to stay as a naturalist in the jungle he loves.


Literary Quality: A charming story, displaying above all the author's love for the city of Manaus on the Brazilian Amazon, a surprising gem of civilisation among the natural although dark splendour of the Amazon jungle. The characters are simple enough, cleanly sketched and attractive without sentiment. There is a certain fairy-tale air about the plot, but this is not taken to extremes. For the most part, you know whom to cheer for, and whom to boo at, and whom to feel sorry for.

Modesty & Decency: The story is set in a Victorian Age in which such things were taken (perhaps too) seriously. Miss Minton declares her independence by quietly losing her heavy corset, while the colonial English despise the simplicity of the natives, taking it as vulgarity.

Native Tribes: The native Indians are simple and loving, stripped of their land by the incoming settlers looking for good sources of rubber and then forced to work to harvest the rubber. The Carter family, greedy and feckless westerners, form a strong contrast, having cheated the Indians of the price for the land they use, and having disregarded the religious wishes of the natives. Others among the colonials are pleasant and cultured people, but on balance the Imperial attitude towards native peoples is shown in a bad light.

When they weren't working on the boat, Finn tool her into the forst. He showed her which nutes to pick and which to avoid, how to get fruit down from the high branches and how to walk quietly, picking up her feet higher than usual, not thumping and blundering about. Once he brought down a paca with his bow and arrow.

'They're good to ear,' he said. 'You ave to be able to kill for feed if necessary,' — and he waited for Maia to make a fuss, but though she turned pale when the little rodent twitched on his arrow, she said nothing. He showed her how to make body paint from urucu berries, and how to fetch water from the river without getting scum into the kettle — and the more she learnt the more she wanted to learn, and the more she dreaded the day of his departure

Thursday 21st August 2003