AJ Ryan is the science fiction author name of prolific fantasy author Anthony Ryan. Ryan has been responsible for the propulsive steampunk-meets-dragons series Draconis Memoria (which started with The Waking Fire) and more recently the Game of Thrones-style epic fantasy Covenant of Steel series (which started with The Pariah). With a name change perhaps indicating a change of direction, comes Red River Seven – an action-packed, post-apocalyptic, horror-tinged puzzlebox novel.
A man wakes up on a boat. He has no idea who he is, only that the person who is with him has just shot themselves. The man’s head has been shaved, he has a long scar on his scalp and the name “Huxley” has been tattooed on his arm. “Huxley” soon finds that there are five other passengers on the boat, all have names of famous writers tattooed on their arms, none of them can remember who they are. What they do quickly work out is that each has a specific skill set – including soldier, doctor, historian, detective, physicist – and all are pretty handy with the guns they have been given. Soon they also learn they are on a critical mission of some sort and that if they start to remember their pasts they are likely to need to be killed. As the six navigate their way up the Thames and into London they start to discover a whole lot more about the situation they are in and why they have been sent there in the way that they have.
Red River Seven is super-contrived and often feels like a narrative version of a video game. While the reason for the memory wipe becomes central to the plot, it is a fairly tired trope and boils the characters down to a set of skills which makes them fairly uninteresting. Again, this feels a bit like a videogame standard as the characters hone and learn new skills to meet the increasing level of difficulty of their mission. While Ryan manages to generate a bit of tension, a lack of connection to the characters makes that tension more about the mysterious mission than the characters themselves. The outline of that mission, when it finally becomes clear, is as tired as the amnesia trope that kicked the whole enterprise off. Readers’ enjoyment of Red River Seven will ultimately depend on their capacity to suspend their disbelief and just go with the conceit and then on how much they enjoy video-game inspired gun and flame-thrower infused violence.