The End of Ever
Troy Barnes Publishing
2012: $25.00 (Paperback)
Reviewed by Matthew Tait
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.