Ferryman by Claire McFall

Ferryman by Claire McFall. Walker Books, Candlewick, c2017, 2021. 9781536218459

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 2

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Fantasy

What did you like about the book?  Dylan’s day starts out badly. She sleeps through her alarm, it’s raining, and she’s the recipient of a slew of nasty comments when she gets to school. But things are about to get worse; en route to Aberdeen to reunite with her long-lost father, she’s killed in a train wreck. Emerging from the tunnel, she sees a blond teenage boy with cobalt-blue eyes. Although Dylan doesn’t initially realize she’s dead, this turns out to be Tristan, her “ferryman”, whose mission is to move her safely across the demon-filled wasteland to the other side. The journey is perilous and takes several days. As the pair trudges from stone safe house to stone safe house (only during the day, when they can be safe from the ghouls), they fall in love. When Dylan finally crosses over, she realizes there’s nothing for her in the afterlife if it means never seeing Tristan again, so back to the wasteland she goes in a desperate attempt to bring both of them back to the living world. This is the first volume in a series and for me had a very strong Twilight vibe: young lovers from 2 realms, a strong psychic/physical attraction dictating their actions, and ever-present external threats to their future happiness. All the characters are White.

Anything you didn’t like about it? This is a home-away-home themed story, but not much of interest happens on the road. For a fantasy world, the setting and operating parameters were woefully underdeveloped, a monotonous slog through muck, mire, and darkness devoid of interesting magic. I was totally confused by the revelation from Tristan that Dylan’s imagination shapes the wasteland; why then doesn’t she imagine a horse, clean clothes, a bridge, or  a less lumpy bed? As in Twilight (famously Edward can rhapsodize about Bella’s enticing scent for several pages), Tristan develops his feelings for Dylan based on very thin criteria: green eyes, the vaguest hint of compassion, her clumsiness. I personally found Dylan pretty whiney. McFall really piles on the exposition, so there’s many passages about how Tristan’s feelings are revealed by the slump of his shoulders or set of his jaw or how Dylan can’t tell if Tristan has feelings for her or is merely moody/inhuman (Twilight redux…).

To whom would you recommend this book?  This is a romance filled with smoldering looks, some cuddling, and a few kisses, so it could be an option for readers who want their passion relatively chaste (although who knows what happens once Tristan and Dylan return to their corporeal bodies). The whole afterlife angle might make it tricky for those preferring an abstinence storyline, so not sure who the target audience would be. So let’s say those looking for romance with supernatural elements. The Scottish setting may draw junior Outlander fans.

Who should buy this book? High schools or public libraries with a demand for the series

Where would you shelve it? YA fiction, fantasy if you genre-fy

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: November 7, 2021

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