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I was so pleased to be able to read Riverkeep by Martin Stewart this week. The book is due out in April of this year in the UK and July in the US. The story is refreshingly imaginative while still delivering a classic Wizard of Oz-style adventure.

Official blurb
The DanĂ©k is a wild, treacherous river, and the Fobisher family has tended it for generations—clearing it of ice and weed, making sure boats can get through, and fishing corpses from its bleak depths. Wulliam’s father, the current Riverkeep, is proud of this work. Wull dreads it. And in one week, when he comes of age, he will have to take over.
Then the unthinkable happens. While recovering a drowned man, Wull’s father is pulled under—and when he emerges, he is no longer himself. A dark spirit possesses him, devouring him from the inside. In an instant, Wull is Riverkeep. And he must care for his father, too.
When he hears that a cure for his father lurks in the belly of a great sea-dwelling beast known as the mormorach, he embarks on an epic journey down the river that his family has so long protected—but never explored. Along the way, he faces death in any number of ways, meets people and creatures touched by magic and madness and alchemy, and finds courage he never knew he possessed.
Martin Stewart's debut novel is an astonishing blend of the literary, the comedic, and the emotionally resonant. In a sentence, it's The Wizard of Oz as told by Patrick Ness. It marks the beginning of a remarkable career.
I'm almost not sure what to say after that blurb, other than that it's very true.

My thoughts in a few words: Evocative, humorous in the right places, memorable characters, solid world-building.

Nothing in this book struck me so much as the wonderful descriptions that manage to capture individual moments in detail without being tedious. Martin Stewart has a beautifully strong grasp of how to describe a scene so that the reader truly feels as if they are there. At times the icy grasp of the river seemed to flow right out of the book. 

Humorous in the right places.
I really appreciate when books have characters that can be funny and still have depth. It's easy to slip in a one-dimensional comedic foil who is just there to make wisecracks and lighten the mood while the main character gets on with the Real Work. This book doesn't have that. Though there are a few ridiculous funny moments in there which I think were added solely to lighten the mood, the humor was well balanced. Tillinghast is definitely a new favorite character for me and I loved his innuendos and wisecracks as well as his deeper realizations about what it means to be human.

Memorable characters.
From the witch trying to bring her wooden baby back to life, to the homunculus who has stolen a mandrake for his own inscrutable purposes, to a mostly-mad one-legged whaler, each character has their own story which interweaves with Wulliam's and is just as interesting. (Just reading about the types of characters in the book makes you want to read it, doesn't it?) 

Solid world-building.
Riverkeep is set in a fictional world, but it contained just enough echoes of our world that it felt solid and real...and old. The clippings and excerpts from songs and history books at the beginning of each chapter helped flesh out a larger history and let the reader in on knowledge that everyone in the world of Riverkeep would already have known. I'd love to see more stories set in this world. 
Martin also managed to create some genuinely creepy creatures--not just the mormorach, but also other creatures Wulliam ends up having to deal with. I would not want to have a run-in with a faelkon.

Overall, definitely one to pre-order. I recommend this to anyone who likes a good quest with a bit of magic mixed in.


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