The Jericho River

By David W. Tollen
Published 05 September 2105
Published by Winifred Press
Source: The Cadence Group
History isn't names and dates -- it's an adventure story.

And so is The Jericho River. Both a novel and a history of Western Civilization, it's won multiple awards, including first place at the London Book Festival and the Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

The Jericho River flows through a magical world shaped by myth and history. Young Jason Gallo sails the river on a dangerous quest to rescue his estranged father. He battles minotaurs and pirates, flees barbarians, stumbles into mummies' tombs, and outwits fairies, philosophers, and scientists. Along the way, he finds love and betrayal, faces the legacy of a broken family -- and flees a hidden foe who threatens all he holds dear.

But Jason's tale is more than an adventure story. The river flows like a timeline, carrying the young man through historic lands -- Sumer, Babylonia, ancient Greece, Medieval Europe, Napoleon' empire, and many others -- all in chronological order, tracing the history of Western Civilization, from its Middle Eastern origins to the modern era. Professor Gallo, Jason's father, is a historian, and his notes outline the journey, revealing the truth about Cleopatra, King Arthur, and the fall of the Roman Empire. He explains how Snow White began as a goddess and why Eve was created from Adam's rib, as well as the origins of coffee, the cat, chivalry, the Internet, Atlantis -- and much more.

Featuring twenty-six vivid historical illustrations and three maps.

I'm not entirely sure where to start when it comes to talking about The Jericho River. The concept is great. It's a fascinating idea that isn't quite followed through. I think in many ways, this is in part a side effect of the footnotes. Now, I'm all for footnotes. The thing is, though, that I'm for footnotes when they're well done, when they add something to the story. The late Terry Pratchett did footnotes wonderfully. In this book, they're a distraction. Not only are they a distraction, but they seem to be the vehicle through which the author does much of the pushing of his point. There is also nothing inherently wrong with a didactic book. Heck, how much of literature has been founded on that basic principle? Go on, preach your piece if you want. It's your book. But when the footnotes take a very obvious turn towards the "This Is My Message" and are left in huge paragraph chunks that aren't very well typeset it becomes...well, even more annoying than it could have been otherwise.

So yes, I would have loved to have a version of this book without footnotes. There was a point about halfway through when I stopped reading them altogether since they weren't adding anything to my enjoyment of the story. Let me be clear on this: I did not enjoy the story. There were elements that I enjoyed, of course. There always are. As I said, I liked the concept. It was a good spark, but that spark didn't turn into much more. The author also had moments when his prose was absolutely beautiful, when he could paint a vivid picture with his words. Those moments were quickly followed by prose so purple it made me wonder if it might like to be let in from the cold.

Let's talk about the MC though, shall we? Jason Gallo. Actually, you know what, there's not a lot to say about Jason. You see, successful fiction and particularly successful YA fiction, gives you a reason to root for the character right from or near the start. Jason doesn't get that rapidfire development. We know that his mom is gone and that he has an aunt Rachel, a little sister Athena (who his father brought into this world, really? Really? It wasn't enough to make the name reference all on its own, we had to be treated to that line too? Jason and Athena was totally enough to establish that their father is a history nerd. We get it,) and that their dad is a history professor who has a certain kind of Presence. This is a Force To Be Reckoned With that doesn't come across in the excerpts from his lectures, btw. We know this because Jason believes it, and from the get go, Jason doesn't seem like the most reliable of narrators.

Jason Gallo is a blank template, but an unsucessful one. He's clearly a character meant to be the path for the reader into the book but- Look, he annoyed me. I'm not gonna spoil anything for the plot, but if this book were to get rewritten or a different adaptation, I'd want a version where Athena lives up to her namesake. I know she's young, but it wouldn't be the first time an actual child has basically wrecked house on a magical world. What we see of Athena makes her have so much more potential than Jason.

Honestly, this book lost me pretty early on. I had to work, actually work to finish it. It wasn't fun. It wasn't enjoyable. It was a chore, plain and simple. The best thing I can say about this book was that it felt alright in my hands. It wasn't a thing that I minded holding so long as I wasn't actually reading it.

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