Forever After: a dark comedy by David Jester
|Forever After: a dark comedy by David Jester|
|Reviewer: James Donald|
|Summary: An entertaining book filled with foul language and horrid locales. An interesting take on a tired old trope that brought new life to it (pun intended).|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: August 2017|
|Publisher: Skyhorse publishing|
|External links: Author's website|
Michael Holland is a cocky and brash young man who dies and gets made the offer of his lifetime; immortality. We follow Michael, a grim reaper and his friends Chip (a stoner tooth fairy) and Naff (a stoner in the records department) as they grapple with their long lives and finding a clean surface to sit on in their flat.
The pickings for books to review were sparse. Christmas is coming and publishers are holding off releases to play on our neophilia over the festive season. I sighed as I asked my wonderful editor to send me Forever After, yet another take on the Grim Reaper. Don't get me wrong I love Gaiman's chirpy goth chick, Pratchett's looming sensitive soul and what Bryan Fuller did with Mandy Patinkin et al but it has been done to death (another intended pun). What else is there to say on the subject?
I really should have remembered the mantra of the TVTropes website Tropes aren't bad, they are tools. I've heard the comic book artist and writer Mike Collins give sound advice to new storytellers – think about the setting. He took their pitches, twisted them slightly then put them on an alien world, ancient Rome, in a disaster zone… anything that wasn't ordinary. The story alone is nothing, the story and setting are a gestalt organism. Jester's setting of Brittleside and his approach to the Grim Reaper proves both points. An old trope can be given a fresh approach and the location can seal the deal.
This is a funny, engaging and very well written book. The characters come to life (no pun intended there) and you can smell the fetid streets. There are a couple of editing issues that draw you up short a bit though. The first flash back is handled poorly and the arrangement of the story around it needed a slight tweak. The last third feels a little bit like it has been hacked at by an editor and not stitched back together again properly after; this gives is a slightly disjointed flow and a rushed feel. Overall there is a sense of editorial muddling beyond these points. The novel seems to get structurally lost. Was this supposed to be a series of short stories within a flowing narrative or was it supposed to be a novel? I really don't want to blame the author for this issue as it really does smack of a 3rd party muddying up the water a bit.
I despise many of the protagonists in this book but this is deliberate and it is the same feeling most people would have if they met their drunken teenage selves. I found the swearing to be a bit crass but that was my own sensibilities and it completely matched the story.
Brittleside, the town in which the book is set, is disgusting. One part Manchester, one part Gotham with a twist of the foulest parts of London from the 70s it is the grimiest and nastiest hidden places of every town combined to make its own municipality. Life is cheap and so the Reaper for the area has his work cut out.
Most takes on the Grim Reaper or similar mythology bring along a sense of wonder, knowledge and other-worldliness. Gaiman's Death is one of the Endless, being who have existed since the start of time. Pratchett's is a supernatural skeleton who lives extra dimensionally and rides a horse called Binky. Patikin's Sofer wants to ensure that his Reapers study hard and pass their exams. Michael Holland is Dave Lister from Red Dwarf without the fun. He lives with the real-world versions of what Dave Lister would be (disgusting, smelly, and foul stoners). He is cursed with his eternal life and nobody can answer his, fairly reasonable, questions.
This book feels initially like it was going to wrap up into a simple romp but ended up playing out to be a great first book in a series. Jester keeps it punchy with the structure but as I say above he would have been better committing to expanding the tales out and strengthening the narrative to make a denser novel or going all out and making a book of connected short stories.
Further reading? What else could I recommend but Mort by Terry Pratchett?
You can read more book reviews or buy Forever After: a dark comedy by David Jester at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Forever After: a dark comedy by David Jester at Amazon.com.
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