The day before my book releases, I’d like to talk to you about… Fran Wilde‘s upcoming MG novel, RIVERLAND! Why? Because its greatness is a particular type of greatness worth teasing out. Let us thread then, you and I!
The short version is this: Riverland is going so save some kids (and adults). That’s because it uses fantasy to portray an all-too-recognizable kind of household: a place where anger rules, and kids learn to hide themselves from it.
More than portraying: it gives power and hope.
I can’t remember a book I’ve found more genuinely frightening. Horror? Pfft. Splattergore? Snore. This novel shows a house where two girls hide themselves and tell each other “scary” stories to block out the violence happening in other parts of the house. That is truly scary 😦
So here’s where Fran shows her genius: she gives us a very realistic portrayal of how children survive in these types of households. But that’s just a start.
She gives us both an allegory and a metaphor of that experience.
We don’t talk as much about allegory in SFF as maybe we should, since so much of SFF devotes itself to personifying ideas. Fran Wilde expertly embodies fears, emotions, and values in characters that, to someone in a situation similar to her protag, will be instantly clear.
That is useful. A reader will read this book and say: “Here are tools I can use.” That is something allegory does tremendously well in general, and this novel in specific.
When I teach, I often bring up the concept of “utile” and “dulce” (courtesy of Horace’s Ars Poetica), the “useful” and “entertaining” aspects of arts. I think these days we’re big on dulce. But the utile has always been a vital part of art. When we say “Art Saves Lives”? Utile.
I LOVE HOW FRAN WILDE BRINGS THE UTILE IN RIVERLAND!
But be not afeared: this book is stuffed to treasure-chest bursting with delights! Fran Wilde gives us a fully-realized portal-world story, awash in dreamscapes and the impossible, oneiric denizens therein. The metaphoric collisions you crave in your fantasy are all here!
Riverland reads like creative nonfiction, an allegory, and a portal fantasy all at once–without ever feeling burdened by doing all of this terrifically complicated work. It just reads like a great story.
A great story that is going to find its way into the hands of people who are hurting. And having read it, readers will cathartically hurt less, and understand how the power of language and imagination can help them move forward
I’d sum it up this way: in the way this novel will reach across time and space to inspire and delight and lend comfort and empower, it is actual magic.