"The End of the Line" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Canelo Adventure
Written by Gray Williams
2019, 385 pages, Fiction
Released on 8th July 2019
Sometimes you read a book and almost give up on it and then after a while you’re happy you never threw in that towel. The End of the Line, the debut novel of Gray Williams, is a book of that type. I found the first 25% both confusing and frustrating, but once the numerous character timelines become slightly clearer the book becomes more enjoyable. The action is set in an alternative version of our world where magic has been outlawed since the Second World War. However, when the plot starts moving we realise there is a new movement attempting to legalise magic for the first time in decades.
Amanda Coleman is the principal character, but the story is also seen from other points of views across several time periods, ranging from thirty years in the past to eighteen, twelve and eight months, all of which added to the confusion in the early stages, as there are too many of them. In the present story Amanda is on a train in a remote part of Russia and is leading a small group that is responsible for keeping a very powerful demon captive, and when they reach their destination, killing it. Ultimately the story revolves around how Amanda and her sidekicks ended up in Russia with this evil creature named Reeves. To control him they use powerful magical wards and a steel coffin to cage it, but Reeves has other ideas, which I’ll leave to your imagination.
Once I got my head around how the magic works, I found the world-building aspects of it both cool and creative. Much of it is connected to tattooing and inking, which is a key facet to any ‘Abra’ (magician) who sell their spells on the black-market. In way of a brief explanation, all spells have side effects, depending on how complex they are, even for the most powerful magicians. Practiced Abras print or paint ink on their skin; positioned on the body in exact locations, they’re geometry precise to counteract any side effects a particular spell might have. The ink also has to be carefully treated, blessed and administered for maximum effect. When blood is mixed into spells, their power is increased substantially, but it brings other types of addictions and dangers, one of the main reasons Amanda despises Abras, which is a key element of the plot. Perhaps the author had read the classic Peter Brett fantasy novel The Painted Man, as tattoos work in a similar way in this outstanding series.
Magic mainly lurks in the underworlds and city mobs of which Amanda owes powerful gangster AK after a botched job. He believes he has an Abra powerful enough to summon and control a demon which will do his bidding and his killing. However, nobody has ever successfully summoned one of these creatures, but Abra Bridget is cocky enough to take on the job. This sequence of the story, told in flashback, is very entertaining and could have played a more prominent part in proceedings. This also connects to another equally powerful part of the tale; the fate of Amanda’s family, three children and husband, as soon the demon begins to hunt everyone involved in his incarceration.
The Russian train sequence features a 90+ hour countdown and this unfortunately drags, as it became repetitive and I found myself wishing the story retreated to some of the earlier parts which led to the present predicament. Other than Amanda, the story is also seen from the point of view of other characters on the train, including her long-term sidekick and enforcer Cabel and Skeebs, who is the younger brother of Danny, an imprisoned former member of Amanda’s gang who still holds influence over his sibling. But perhaps the most interesting is Steph, the daughter of Bridget, herself a powerful Abra, but she is only fourteen-years-old and no match for the vicious Reeves. Steph is an outstanding character, neglected and forgotten by her Abra mother, but at the same time is brave enough to step up to the plate and challenge Reeves.
Amongst the flashbacks we are afforded a glimpse of Amanda’s family life; her husband Simon and three children Michaela, Emily and Darren, and they play a key part in one of the novel’s most convincing story threads when things go horribly wrong. Much of this is revealed early on and then detailed more clearly in reverse. Amanda is a feared figure in the underworld, as she is also known as the ‘Abra Killer’, also revealed via another intense backstory which harks back to her troubled childhood.
Interestingly The End of the Line is never seen from the point of view of the demon; that might have been an interesting angle, as Reeves oozes menace and threat. Also, the author’s vision never connects the creature to those of the Bible or Christianity, which was an intriguing idea. Gray Williams has created a fine supernatural world and now that he has set the foundation stones I would be interested to see whether he decides to revisit it with a second novel. It is certainly something worth considering, perhaps with a story which is slightly more linear with less jumps backwards and forwards over multiple time periods.
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