RED RIVER SEVEN
Review by Krystle Matar
Seven strangers. One mission. Infinite horror.
A man awakes on a boat at sea with no memory of who or where he is. He’s not alone – there are six others, each with a unique set of skills. None of them can remember their names. All of them possess a gun.
When a message appears on the onboard computer – Proceeding to Point A – the group agrees to work together to survive whatever is coming.
But as the boat moves through the mist-shrouded waters, divisions begin to form. Who is directing them and to what purpose? Why can’t they remember anything?
And what are the screams they can hear beyond the mist?
Internationally bestselling fantasy author Anthony Ryan – writing as A. J. Ryan – delivers a nerve-shredding thriller in which seven strangers must undertake a terrifying journey into the unknown.
Holy. Fucking. Shit.
Okay now that’s out of the way, let me try that again but with coherence.
RED RIVER SEVEN by A. J. Ryan is a nail-biting edge of your seat triumph of the thriller/scifi/horror genre blend in the vein of other pathogen-mutation-apocalypse horror stories like 28 Days Later and World War Z. Except the zombies aren’t zombies, but rather nightmarish (iykyk) mutations that I can’t describe without spoiling the delicious tension of the reveals.
At a tight 63k words (according to Kobo) or 277 pages in the paperback, RED RIVER SEVEN tosses you and the amnesiac cast into a boat steaming toward [redacted for spoilers] and never once lets up. It sacrifices details in the name of its own urgency. I can’t tell you much about the characters, but then neither can they, so fair play. What I can tell you, though, is that the rapid dawning horror of what they’re facing grabs on to you and doesn’t once let you go.
The book’s strength, rather, lies in the building of that tension. The facelessness of the characters becomes a feature rather than a bug. They could be anyone, and though they seem to have been selected for their mission based on skills they don’t really remember, the anonymity of them lets the reader empathize with them more rather than less. They could be anyone, but they were tasked with [redacted for spoilers] making it so easy for the reader imagine themselves on this boat. They could be anyone, they could be me.
Ryan intersperses this sparse style with occasional moments of stunningly breath-taking description. Sometimes gross (thanks pathogen), sometimes beautiful, sometimes harrowing, the narrative slows down at all the right moments to let the horror, the hope, and the stakes really sink in. The flowers that are central to the final climatic showdown are just ::chefs kiss::
The ending follows this theme. Abrupt but perfectly so, uncertain but satisfying, surprisingly emotional given how little we know about the character’s lives before. Pitch perfect in my humble opinion—knowing anything with any more certainty than what we got would have spoiled the delicate balance that Ryan so deftly achieved. It doesn’t make sense for the reader to be told any more since [redacted for spoilers] and I admire the narrative decision to leave the ending so open. Does it mean we’ll see a follow up in this universe? I don’t know. We could, I suppose, pick up the story with someone else who knows more, who carries the conflict into the next stage. But we don’t need to. It exists on its own as a perfect little microcosm of the genre. What happens isn’t important so much as that it happens. RED RIVER SEVEN posits a question that leaves echos in you long after you’re finished reading:
Who are we, when we don’t remember who we are?
And what power do our nightmares have?
The answers, much like the characters’ memories, are never fully realized. But the questions are memorable and moving nonetheless.
A J Ryan is the penname for Anthony Ryan
Anthony Ryan was born in Scotland in 1970 but spent much of his adult life living and working in London. After a long career in the British Civil Service he took up writing full time after the success of his first novel Blood Song, Book One of the Raven’s Shadow trilogy. He has a degree in history, and his interests include art, science and the unending quest for the perfect pint of real ale.
For news and general wittering about stuff he likes, check out Anthony’s blog at: http://anthonystuff.wordpress.com
Check out his other works via his Goodreads page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5804101.Anthony_Ryan
And if you decide you need RED RIVER SEVEN (you do) check it out on Zon or your retailer of choice