Many years ago I composed a review for the Australian writer Will Elliot – who, having astonished readers worldwide with his debut novel The Pilo Family Circus – had now released his sophomore effort, the first book in a fantasy trilogy entitled Pilgrims. Parts of the review read:
I think there comes a time in the speculative writer’s life where they think: now is the time to do my ‘otherworld’ book. Be it another realm, dimension, or simply ‘world’ that sits adjacent to this one – it seems ingrained that this accomplished to serve as a kind of Magnum Opus or literary Jupiter to dwarf all other works in the writer’s pantheon.
As the author of two previous full-length novels, Troy Barnes has decided to largely shift gears and tackle the aforementioned above – to bring a motley cast of characters from our own familiar world and transport them kicking and screaming into an invented one. It’s an ambitious task – especially within the confines of a stand-alone alone novel. There is an arrangement of a mythology to set up; but not only that – the writer must play by its rules and keep them check.
Although no central protagonist opens this tale, this seems to be the story of young Zach. After a night of revelry with his friends: Rayne, Shaun, Amy, and Taylor retire at home together. Upon waking not only do these individuals find themselves in a different world – their entire house has been transported with them to the edge of a cliff. At first this land is somewhat mundane ... it could be an exotic region of earth. But as they make their way down the mountain they find a bleak austerity to the realm devoid of life but potent in its nullity. Soon, it isn’t long before the landscape begins to feel like the afterlife ... one more akin to Hell.
Troy’s prose is simple yet steady. Holding its own you can see the hallmarks of other writers that the author may not necessarily read now ... but instead grew up with. There’s an undeniable Australian/world dichotomy – one that is refreshingly welcome. But there is also a level of the juvenile (not uncommon with only a third book), and pages riddled with adverbs that the editor should have scalped away clean. Divided up into short and choppy chapters heralded into steady parts ... it’s a technique that ultimately pays dividends over the course of nearly 400 pages. In short, it keeps you turning them.
This is the world of Ever - a world a little reminiscent, perhaps, of King’s Mid-World in its particulars. Carnage comes very quickly, and you wonder how many will be left by the mid-point. In their wanderings, the intrepid group are joined by the amiable darkling Titch, a kind of elfin half-breed whose race were decimated decades previous. Titch then becomes central to the story as the group encounter soul-feeding Gremlins and a town entirely inhabited by a wicked band of men I’ve seldom encountered in fiction before. It’s a well mapped and thought out world – you can tell Troy knows it well. But if I could lament one thing it would be its ultimate lack of colour: as the group travel down the road known as the Shadow Line we get the sense that more monsters are required on this journey.
Overall, this is a book I enjoyed my time with. Although you’ll find nothing overtly new in the inventions, I found the characters to be its central sticking point. Other writers would do well to follow Troy’s example here – he’s taken his crew and given them such well rounded life you’ll feel an intimate connection. And taken as a whole, it far exceeds his previous two novels. When you have a novelist who is only improving with each successive stroke of the pen, you have a novelist you can ultimately invest in.