Take Me To The River
The omnibus edition of the revised Confluence trilogy is published today as a trade paperback and ebook editions in all formats. A fat doorstopper of a package of 994 pages containing three novels - Child of the River, Ancients of Days, Shrine of Stars - and two associated short stories, 'Recording Angel' and 'All Tomorrow's Parties.' It's taken a few years and some hard work to get it back into print, so I'm thrilled that it's now been released back into the wild.
The story of a boy and his river, here's the moment when its hero reaches the capital city of his world:
At first the houses were no more than empty tombs with narrow windows chipped into their carved walls and smoke-holes cut into their roofs, improvised villages strung along the terraces at the old edge of the Great River. The people who lived there were very tall and very thin, with small heads and long, glossy black hair, and skin the colour of rust. They went about naked. The chests of the men were welted with spiral patterns of scars; the women stiffened their hair with red clay. They hunted lizards and snakes and coneys,collected the juicy young pads of prickly pear and dug for tuberous roots in the dry tableland above the cliffs, picked samphire and watercress in the marshes by the margin of the river, and waded out into the river’s shallows and cast circular nets to catch fish, which they smoked on racks above fires built of creosote bush and pine chips. They were cheerful and hospitable, and gave food freely to Yama and Prefect Corin when they halted at noon.
Then there were proper houses amongst the tombs, straggling up steep, narrow streets, painted yellow or blue or pink, with little gardens planted out on their flat roofs. Shanty villages were built on stilts over the mudbanks and silty channels left by the river’s retreat, and beyond these, sometimes less than half a league from the road, sometimes two or three leagues distant, was the river, and docks constructed from floating pontoons and the cut-down hulls of old ships and barges, and a constant traffic of cockleshell sailboats and barges, sleek fore-and-aft rigged cutters and three-masted xebecs hugging the shore. Along the old river road, street merchants sold fresh fish and oysters and mussels from tanks, and freshly steamed lobsters and spiny crabs, samphire and lotus roots and water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and little red bananas and several kinds of kelp, milk from tethered goats, spices, pickled walnuts, fresh fruit and grass juice, ice, jewellery made of polished shells, black seed pearls, caged birds, bolts of brightly patterned cloths, sandals made from the worn rubber tread of steam wagon tyres, cheap plastic toys, cassette recordings of popular ballads or prayers, and a thousand other things. The stalls and booths of the merchants formed a kind of ribbon market strung along the dusty shoulder of the old road, noisy with the cries of hawkers and music from cassette recorders and itinerant musicians, and the buzz of commerce as people bargained and gossiped and argued. When a warship went past, a league beyond the crowded tarpaper roofs of the shanty villages and the cranes of the docks, everyone stopped to watch it. As if in salute, it raised the red and gold blades of its triple-banked oars and fired a charge of white smoke from a cannon, and everyone along the old road cheered.
That was when Yama realised that he could see, for the first time, the farside shore of the Great River: a dark irregular line of houses and docks. The river was deep and swift here, stained brown along the shore and dark blue further out. He had reached Ys and had not known it until now. The city had crept up on him like an army in the night, the inhabited tombs like scouts, the streets of painted houses and the tumbledown shanty villages like the first ranks of foot soldiers. It was as if, after the fiasco of the attempted rescue of the palmers, he had suddenly woken from a long sleep.