Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Best friends Jack and Wynn are canoeing down the Maskwa River, a big adventure into the Canadian wilderness, when a wildfire starts licking at their heels. They go back to warn others, only to find the fire isn’t their greatest threat.

The earth stripped to its geography did not feel like home.

The River was one of those books where I liked the sound of it before realising I’d read the author before. The Dog Stars made my top ten list in 2012 and I wasn’t disappointed with Peter Heller’s latest. I thought the fire might be a bigger part, but it’s always in the background, herding them into the human danger ahead.

Jack lost his mother in a riding accident, but he never turned his back on the wilderness that took her. He recollects his loss and grief throughout the journey. Wynn is much simpler, kind and gentle, never wanting to assume the worst of people.

If you’ve not got much interest in the minutiae of wild camping and long-distance canoeing, this might not be the book for you. It reminded me of a YouTuber my partner’s recently started watching and I think there’s something in that desire to escape to the wild and live a simpler life for a few weeks.

It smelled like a river, like moving water, a colder, cleaner scent, and he pulled it into his lungs, from where it seemed to run through every capillary of his body, and he felt happy.

The fire and the potential killer adds tension to the story, but it still takes time to take in the landscape. It isn’t a fast-paced book, they go at the pace of the river, but that’s fine. It spends time describing the landscape, and the experience of being in it.

Be prepared to cry at the end. I was not expecting to be moved by this, expecting more of an adventure story. Whilst the woman in the story is a victim, the two men are kind to her, treat her with the compassion one would want if your husband had just tried to kill you. They have zero patience with anyone wanting to harm her, not something you can take for granted in fictional survival scenarios.

Whatever malevolence the couple had ignited they had brought with them. That puzzled him. Why come so far if you were doing so badly? As people, as husband and wife? Why come the hell up here?

The River is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson and is available in ebook now, with the hardback released on 16th May 2019. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 8. A book about a hobby

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