12-year-old Alistair Cleary is approached by the odd girl in the neighborhood, Fiona Loomis, to write her biography and, over the course of several weeks, she tells him of her alternate life in a land called Aquavania “where stories are made”, and where she and other kids have created their own fantasy worlds. But now, the malicious Riverman, has infiltrated Aquavania and is stealing the children’s souls and making them disappear in the Solid World, and Fiona believes she is his next target. It is not clear to Alistair (or the reader) if this land really exists, and Alistair interprets her stories as a way of asking for help from a real situation at home.
The Riverman is driven by Alistair’s maturing from the simplicity of childhood: the plot pivots around him discarding old friends, and his increasing attraction to ones with more complex and ambivalent qualities.
Told in the first person and with a looming sense of foreboding, the reader is kept in the same state of unknowing tension as Alistair. However, the pacing is a little off – the middle sags and the end is very rushed with a flurry of revelations and unlikely gunfire.
At the conclusion, the reader may still not be clear what is real and what is metaphor, and while some may enjoy this ambiguity, others will find it unsatisfactory – personally I think it fell on the wrong side of that fine line. The Riverman appears to be the first in a series and will appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman’s disquieting stories.