Friday, May 10, 2013

The End of Ever by Troy Barnes

Many years ago I composed a review for 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 this accomplished to serve as a kind of Magnum Opus or literary Jupiter to dwarf all other works in a 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. An arrangement of a mythology needs to be established; not only that – the writer must play by its rules and keep them check.

Although no central protagonist opens proceedings, this seems to be the story of young Zach. After a night of revelry with friends: Rayne, Shaun, Amy, and Taylor retire at home together. Upon waking, not only do they find themselves in a different world, their entire house has been transported to the edge of a cliff. At first this land is somewhat mundane ... it could be an exotic region of earth. But as they proceed down the cliff, they find a bleak austerity to the realm devoid of life yet 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 the author may not necessarily read now ... but instead grew up with. There’s an undeniable Australian 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 an editor should have scalped away clean. Divided up into short and choppy chapters heralded into 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 reminiscent, perhaps, of King’s Mid-World. Carnage comes swiftly, and you wonder how many will be left alive 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. Ever is a well mapped world – you can tell Troy knows it well. But if I could lament one thing, it would be its lack of color: as the group travel down a road known as the Shadow Line, you get the feeling more monsters are required on this journey.

Overall, this is a book I enjoyed my time with. And though there's 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 a fellowship and given them such well rounded life you’ll feel a 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.