I must have been nine or ten when I first read this book. My copy had belonged to my mother when she was a child and is a 1940 edition. I loved it. It’s a stirring tale of secret agents and revolution, with the eleven year old hero at the heart of events.
The story opens when Dick Fauconbois (the names are always vaguely French) who lives some miles outside The City (always un-named) the capital of The Empire (also un-named), meets up with a man named Far Away Moses, driving a gypsy caravan. Dick helps him escape from a troop of Black Riders (some sort of mounted police) and they take shelter with the owner of a nearby castle who goes by the nickname of Wych Hazel. The dreaded Count Jasper, Governor of the Citadel follows and nearly catches them, since Wych Hazel is not a good conspirator, and nearly gives them away. But they escape and Dick returns safely home.
A year passes, during which Dick meets others of the Confederation – a revolutionary (and yet pro-monarchist group), who want to replace the existing emperor with a newer model, rather than a different one entirely. The politics is never gone into very deeply, the adventure is much more important for Dick, and one assumes for the intended audience.
There are plenty of desperate chases, moral dilemmas and races against time, to thrill the most bored of children, and the values are always solidly middle class British despite the foreign setting. All ends happily when the old emperor dies, leaving Far Away Moses (rescued from a firing squad by Count Jasper’s intrepid daughter) and Count Jasper to come to terms.
I’ve said elsewhere that I feel that The Empire is reminiscent of the pre-WW1 Austro-Hungarian Empire, and one could certainly take The River as similar to the Danube. The illustrations by Anne Bullen don’t give a 1930s feel to the story.