Upriver, Downriver by Aaron Ward

Upriver, Downriver by Aaron Ward

I started reading this on a long haul flight. Tired, I almost abandoned it immediately when I saw that ‘and’ had been used five times in the first sentence. Fortunately, I didn’t. The writer’s preferential overuse of ‘and’ aside, this book hooked my attention almost immediately.

The opening scene reminded me, and bear with me as I’m not from the US, of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. An instantly familiar feel of the Deep South.

“Sweat stuck their shirts to their backs, their clothes ragged and newly outgrown with the sudden affliction of puberty…

…their faces lightly turfed by the wispiest of hairs. With no adults around to bother them they were left free to swear and spit and scratch themselves, happy in these things and close to mastery of them.”

Just as I was soothed into this familiar backdrop, I was then subtly nudged with the concept that this is in fact a very different genre altogether, science fiction.

The three main characters, who in the first scene are casually fishing by the river, aren’t just boys, after all. The valley in which they live, the last line of nature’s defence against a vast post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Right from the beginning you feel kinship with the boys in the story, and will chuckle to yourself at their antics and banter. The vivid and intricate characterisation only gets stronger as the story continues, until you feel deeply immersed in the life of the village and wholly connected to all its inhabitants.

The relationships between friends and family are intensely complex but represented by the author with elegant ease; this is a brief extract of a dispute between father and son:

“Lingering on the bridge, Rutherford called to Hunk, ‘what do you want for supper?’

‘I hate you!’ shrieked Hunk.

Rutherford slowly and calmly uncrossed his arms.

Hunk cleared his throat. ‘Potatoes!’ he shouted, a lot less fiercely.”

Intrigue seeps smoothly from a slow and graceful telling, making you yearn for answers whilst savouring the exquisite detail of every scene.

All throughout the writing style flows poetically, while giving deep poignancy to the characters:

“Hers was a face that hoarded worry under the eyes and in her cheeks, her legs strong from near continuous bustle, like she’d always been moving uphill.”

“He looked as if he were remembering something, and the memory was sinking into him and travelling all the way into his fingers which curled and uncurled on his thighs.”

What I really loved about this story was the absence of clichéd characters. Every one of them, of which there are many, had unique mannerisms and captivating backgrounds. Every one had dreams and doubts, motives and cause. Every one was entirely human. There were moments where I anticipated heroes to emerge, or villains to be slain, and yet the author methodically led us through, not with angelic morality but with tough choices and grit. Every plot piece, and character development, masterfully interwoven.

Forget genre, this is a story of humanity. I laughed, I teared up, I went several sleepless nights, I begged that it would all turn out alright, and I simply could not put it down until I reached the end.

I was excited and nervous about writing this review, knowing that I couldn’t begin to do justice to such a deep and intricate story but eager to shout my inadequately phrased praise to all who would hear me.

This book is exactly the kind of gem we here at Striking13 strive to uncover, and it exceeded my highest expectations. This is the sort of book that once read you’ll want to tell everyone about, which is exactly what I plan to do next. I will be buying copies of this for my friends and family, with the exhilarating anticipation of being able to discuss it with them.

Thank you, Aaron Ward, for sharing this with us. You took me on an exceptional journey and I can’t wait to read more from you.

Upriver, Downriver Book Cover Upriver, Downriver
Aaron Ward


Masters Biscuit, Turnaround, Forrester, and the Lady Neptune say 'hi' and 'how's it going' from their home in the ever-cozy Sarpsis Valley. Nestled in the heart of nowhere and lovingly hugging the great and bounteous Sarpsis River, we here in the valley think that this is the best damn place there could ever be in all the world! We got fishing, we got hunting––we got nothing but friends and well-wishers for neighbors and heroes and scholars for family. Maybe our criteria for "best" and "possible" is narrowed, what with so much of the world blown up and the rest of it loud and wounding and Fussy. And sure, maybe none of us has even been past the mountains or beyond the Withergrounds––but that's besides the point. Yes, friends, by process of elimination, by virtue of forfeit by all contenders, the Sarpsis Valley is the best damn place there could possibly be. Well, at least it was…Hasn't rained in a few years. And uh––river's shrinking a bit. Ground's kinda dry. But any day now it's gonna rain! Right around the corner! Biscuit's wings are twitching cause he thinks he feels a wetness on the wind, and all eight of Turnaround's eyes are peeled for clouds. Yep. Any day now it's gonna rain and everything is gonna to be alright––so mount the oars, hoist a sail, and fill your pockets full of worms because any day now the fishing is gonna be as good as it was, and all the best spots'll be taken.

P.S. The funniest thing's just happened! Some people came from up in The Fuss, and you know what, they don't seem so bad after all! They made it rain, and they got these seeds that grow to plants in less than an afternoon! Some people are jittery about it, but hell, Biscuit says this is no world for cowards. Forrester thinks the people from upriver look at at the strange kids funny, that they look at Biscuit's wings like candy and at Blonde John's digging claws like they're a present or something. But anyway––it's damn good to see things getting back on track, however it has to happen.

P.P.S. Some more new people came from up the river, and they said they came to help too! People from upriver sure are helpful. Valley's getting a bit crowded, but hell––you're still invited.

P.P.P.S. We changed our minds. Keep out. Keep the hell out!


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