In a desperate effort to save his stricken father, naïve young Wulliam sets off down a river strewn with deadly hazards…to tackle the sea monster at its mouth.
The quest quickly becomes an intense bildungsroman as darkly comical as it is terrifying and violent. Hopelessly unready to take over on his upcoming 16th birthday the family job of keeping a stretch of the icy Danék free of floating corpses and navigational hazards, brown-skinned Wulliam resolutely shoves off in a small boat with his beloved father—rendered a fretful zombie by a bohdan, a watery parasite that eats its victims slowly from the inside out. As Wulliam travels, his hope of killing the massive mormorach, a mythic, ship-crushing creature from myth that may cure his father, grows increasingly forlorn. He is also joined willy-nilly by three quarrelsome, mysterious fellow travelers. All three are show stealers, but chief among them is the Falstaffian Tillinghast, an outsized, blue-skinned homunculus with an irrepressibly libidinous line of banter and a murderous hit man hot on his trail. Stewart shows a dab hand at crafting memorable characters and thoroughly frightening opponents for them to face. Leaving several supporting storylines up in the air, he navigates the quixotic main mission to a solid resolution that leaves Wulliam truly prepared at last to take up his riverine duties.
A rich debut: Huck Finn meets Moby-Dick. (map) (Fantasy. 14-18)