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Red River Seven

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Orbit Books. p/b. £9.99.

Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.

The front cover for Red River Seven by A. J. Ryan. The cover is red. There is a trail of black smoke weaving down the middle of the page, thin at the top and thick at the bottom. The title works are in white running down the middle of the page.

He awakens to a corpse and to the realisation that he does not know his own name. Nor where he is. Nor why. It is a boat. Not large. His neighbour appears to have killed himself. They have things in common. The name of an author is tattooed on their arm. Heads shaved. Matching scars. He realises a lot… including that he, ‘Huxley’, and the late ‘Conrad’, are not the only ones on board.

Not a single member of the crew can remember details of their life. The only thing clear is that each has their own particular area of expertise. Beyond that, they have no idea why they are on the boat, where they came from, where they are going, or why. An emotionally detached voice on the other end of a satellite phone is their only connection to the world beyond the vessel and their only guide to the centre of this mystery.

Slowly, Huxley, who it seems may have been a detective before he woke up on the boat, begins to unpick the who, what and why of their mission and the horrifying reason they have been assembled. They began as seven. How many will survive to the end?

Red River Seven is a fast-paced dystopian horror which drip-feeds details of the truth to the reader and to Huxley, who serves as the point of view protagonist throughout. This is a tension-fuelled page-turner with slight echoes of 28 Days Later, centred around Huxley and his struggle with just who or what remains trustworthy in his new existence.

The worldbuilding takes a lesser role when compared to Ryan’s epic fantasies, but the level of detail where it matters, the pace, and the narrative flow are handled expertly to prevent the reader from pausing mid-mystery. With morbid fascination, we, Huxley and the team, crave explanation, even as part of us shies away from discovering anymore.

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