Peter Ruppert noted that Hoban's novel draws on "such well-known dystopias as A Clockwork Orange, Lord of the Flies, and A Canticle for Leibowitz", and "what is unique in Hoban's haunting vision of the future is his language" which is described as being similar to the Nadsat slang spoken in Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists stated that, "The force and beauty and awfulness of Hoban's creation is shattering," and praised the author's use of a crude "Chaucerian English". John Mullan of The Guardian also praised Hoban's decision to narrate the novel in a devolved form of English: "The struggle with Riddley's language is what makes reading the book so absorbing, so completely possessing."
Library Journal wrote that the book holds "a unique and beloved place among the few after-Armageddon classics". It was included in David Pringle's book Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels. In 1994, American literary critic Harold Bloom included Riddley Walker in his list of works comprising the Western Canon.