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Riverkeep by Martin Stewart. Book Review

March 27, 2016


Fifteen-year-old Wulliam has grown up with the knowledge he will be eventually be expected to take over his father’s work as a Riverkeep, looking after the river and fishing out bodies to give them a dignified delivery from its liquid embrace. But one night, when his father reaches over to pull a corpse into his boat, his own body is taken over by a sinister spirit. So when Wull discovers that a great sea-beast, a mormorach, might possess the cure for his father’s affliction Wull sets off down the river to seek it out.

This is a terrific debut, and has the feel of a future classic. With its atmospheric ocean town and gritty, hilarious banter, it’s Herman Melville meets Terry Prachett with a dash of Arthur Rackham.

Wull’s world is certainly weird and wonderful, both in flora and fauna, as well as its equally bizarre citizens. Martin Stewart is an author who not only has the most fertile of imaginations, but knows how to use it to intrigue without overloading. Instead you’re plunged into the Riverkeep world as deeply as Wulliam’s father is into the river he tends with such care. You can feel and smell it in all its glorious slimy pungency.

Tillinghurst, the straw man, does comes out with some ripe and saucy comments, that put this book into the fifteen plus range of readers (the plus being adults who will enjoy Stewart’s richly wrought characters, world building and brilliant plot). There is also the delightfully peculiar dialect that might bamboozle a younger audience. But it does make perfect sense if you just relax and let it flow, and it is a wonderful device for bringing the characters to life. The masterfully executed banter between the main protagonists of Wulliam, Tillinghurst, Remedie (with her strange infant) and the mysterious and caring Mix really cements the whole team together.

The bad guys are splendidly vile, often providing the moments that balance between horror and humour. The author is excellent at sliding one into the other to create a great sense of tension in the read as the action hots up.

Without giving too much away, the ending implies this is a tale not yet finished. If that is indeed the case then the next one had better hurry up and work its way out of the author’s imagination, or there will be trouble.

Riverkeep was courtesy of Penguin via NetGalley

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