Riverkeep written by Martin Stewart
Published by Penguin Books
Though it has been years since I last picked up a work of the fantasy genre, it didn’t take much for Martin Stewart’s debut novel Riverkeep to evoke memories of A Wizard of Earthsea, a truly memorable novel of its kind.
In reality, Riverkeep, like Earthsea, is a challenging read. It’s challenging because it is not of this world. Much of the speech is written in dialect, there is a cast of thousands, and the locations and creatures are imagined from folklore. You can’t afford to let your mind wander when reading this book. It takes concentration and persistence to adapt to the world and language of the Riverkeep and if you do, you should be well rewarded.
The novel focuses on the life and quest of young Wulliam, prematurely thrown into adulthood when an evil spirit possesses his papa, after a Riverkeep mission gone wrong. If Wull has any chance of salvaging papa’s soul from the body snatcher, he must go in search of the legendary mormorach, a cross between Moby Dick and the Loch Ness Monster. Only the momorach holds the cure to exorcising his papa’s demon, hidden deep in its belly.
The quest, as in any great work of fantasy literature, soon becomes of epic proportions, and tests the very will and survival instincts of its young hero. Once the reader has adapted to Martin Stewart’s imagined world, and its strange goings ons, it is the courage and commitment of the brave and honourable young protagonist that wins admiration, and keeps the pages turning.
However, Wull is not the only drawcard and is ably supported by a strongly drawn cast of supporting characters including the larger-than-life Tillinghast (a Scarecrow-like figure), and the Davy Jones/Captain Barbossa-esque nemesis, Captain Murdagh.
Riverkeep moves from what I would describe as humble beginnings to an edge of your seat adventure, packed to the gunnels with humour, rich characterisations, frustrating setbacks, touching sacrifice and a coming of age and wisdom for its young hero.
For the mature young adult reader, Riverkeep promises great things from a debut author who may one day take his place alongside the great writers of fantasy fiction, Le Guin, Pratchett and Rowling.
CKT Book Reviewer
Author: Martin Stewart
Publisher: Penguin Books
Published: May 2016