Sunday, August 22, 2010

Review: Pilgrims by Will Elliot

An author that needs no introduction, Will Elliot burst into the mainstream from relative obscurity after winning the ABC manuscript award with The Pilo Family Circus. It was a novel of disturbing ideas and grisly images that took on a life of its own, breathing fresh blood into our literary scene and showcasing that young Australian talent could mix it with the big guns on a world stage. With Pilgrims, Elliot shifts gears in a largely new direction, moving into the invented world genre and trying to explode its conventions from within.

From experience, I think there comes a time in a speculative writer’s life when they think: now is the time to do my ‘otherworld’ book. Be it a dominion, realm, dimension, or simply world – it seems ingrained that this be accomplished as a kind of Magnum Opus or literary Jupiter that dwarfs all other novels, novellas, or short stories. And there is nothing wrong with this. Although it took an eternity, King himself achieved this milestone with The Dark Tower books. Numerous other authors have made it a staple: Clive Barker’s descriptions of wonderlands that sit just adjacent to us are like a guide for every intrepid writer who feels the need to describe some otherland. This hybrid of dark fantasy and horror is now well-mapped … the challenge is to find something unique and powerful to add to the fray. For the most part, Will Elliot does succeed with Pilgrims, book one of the Pendulum trilogy.

Eric Albright (a protagonist with shades of Elliot I suspect), has discovered a small red door underneath a train bridge near his home. His wingman in the unearthing is Stuart Case, a homeless alcoholic who accompanies Eric through the door into Levaal … the adjacent realm next to ours brimming with magic and all the ingredients we have come to expect from fantasy. We are on familiar ground, and Eric knows it. More than once he voices the opinion that because he is from our world, then he must be its savoir. Both Eric and Case become part of a quest that is fragmentary in the details but mainly about survival. A numerous and varied cast is introduced, and readers will see creatures of staggeringly various descriptions populate the world of Levaal. There are War Mages, flying Invia, Gods and Great Spirits. There are those that are free, and those that are not … as the current resident of the Castle, Vous, has turned this beacon of magic into a house of malign purpose with the hopes of ascending to Godhood.

Pilgrims as a book reflects journey. The kind of book, perhaps, that’s perfect for ones own voyage. For some peculiar reason I found myself digging into this narrative always when I was on the move: traffic light intersections, bus trips, and even on one occasion when hiking through the woods. At times it can be stagnant; the action and mysteries of a type encountered in many other fictitious worlds before. The language feels familiar and intimate, however – the Australian voice homely. Above all, Will Elliot wants to take us to his Narnia and the world of his childhood. Although a far cry from his debut novel and not inhabiting the same territory, Pilgrims nevertheless acts as a worthy successor.  

The story continues in Shadow and concludes in book three Dragon.  

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