Claire McFall’s young adult paranormal romance novel Ferryman
(2013) centers on a girl traversing the afterlife after she dies in a train crash, but a soul eater doesn’t want her to complete her journey safely. The first book in the Ferryman
trilogy, it received a mixed reception from readers, but it was, nevertheless, nominated for the Carnegie Medal in 2014. McFall is a young adult author who typically writes about characters facing impossible decisions. Ferryman
was her debut novel.
Dylan, a teenage girl, lives in Aberdeen, Scotland with her mother. Though Dylan is well-adjusted and comfortable in her own skin, she feels that something is missing in her life. She has never met her father, and her mother doesn’t talk about him much. Dylan knows that meeting her father would make her feel better, but it won’t be easy to see him.
One day, Dylan has the opportunity she has been waiting for: her father, who lives in another town, has invited Dylan to visit him for the day. Dylan can’t wait to meet him; she hopes he lives up to her expectations. She is worried that he will be disappointed when he meets her, because she doesn’t know what he expects from a daughter.
Dylan travels down from Aberdeen by train. She travels alone because her mother doesn’t want to see her father. During the journey, the train derails and crashes. Dylan is thrown against the carriage and passes out. When she wakes up, everyone around her appears dead. She creeps over the bodies and exits the train.
The moment Dylan steps off the train, her instinct tells her that something is wrong. The surrounding landscape doesn’t look normal. She ventures along a dark tunnel, growing warier with each step. Everything is silent and shadowy; the atmosphere makes her hair stand on end.
Things only get worse when Dylan spots a boy at the end of the tunnel. Alone, he doesn’t seem friendly. She wants to tell him about the train crash, but he makes her uneasy. With no way to turn back, she approaches him and asks for help. He introduces himself as Tristan. He tells her that he can help her, but she can’t ever go back to her old life. Dylan thinks that Tristan is crazy until she finds out the truth.
Tristan is a Ferryman. Ferrymen are immortal beings tasked with shepherding human souls from purgatory to the afterlife. It is impossible for human souls to make this journey on their own because they don’t know the way, and there are many dangers lurking in the shadows. Now, Dylan realizes that she didn’t survive the train crash. She is the only passenger who died.
Dylan wants to mourn her short life and how she never had the chance to say goodbye to anyone. She is especially sad that she never met her father. Tristan, however, insists that she follows him immediately, because it is unsafe to stand around in the one place for long. Together, they begin the long journey toward the afterlife.
Dylan and Tristan get to know each other as they walk. Dylan wishes they were both alive because Tristan is s a handsome and genuinely nice guy. Normally, Tristan never cares about his human charges, but this time, it is different. He feels sorry for Dylan, and he is physically attracted to her. He wishes they could be together, but he knows that the moment he helps her into the afterlife, he will never see her again.
In the background, evil wraiths stalk this purgatory wasteland, waiting for human souls to devour. If Dylan isn’t careful, or if she loses contact with Tristan, she will never make it across the boundary. Tristan tells Dylan that she can make the journey easier by calming down and accepting death. The landscape they walk through changes depending on Dylan’s mood; some landscapes make it easier for wraiths to attack than others.
Dylan doesn’t want to leave purgatory. If she can’t go back to the living, she wants to stay with Tristan forever. She makes the landscape treacherous so that it takes them longer to navigate it. What she doesn’t realize is that moving so slowly puts Tristan’s life in danger, too. He might be immortal, but he still has a soul, and he will lose it forever if the wraiths get him.
Because Dylan takes so long to walk through the wasteland, countless wraiths attack them. Tristan can’t fight them off forever; every battle weakens him. He decides that the only way to keep them both safe is if they find new bodies to inhabit to “cheat” death. Together, they search for host bodies who are ready to die. When the souls leave the bodies, Dylan and Tristan trade places with them. Now, they are free to return to the living world, where they can be together. The second book explores the consequences flowing from their decision.