Review: Endless – Matt Bone

What to say about Matt Bone‘s Endless? Perhaps I should start with a disclaimer. I was given this book by my sister, to whom the author gave it, for free. This was so that it could get a few more reviews on the UK amazon website. I ought to point out that, when I review it, it will certainly mean that its average mark goes down. It has a few more reviews on the US amazon, I’m not sure why they don’t cross over or something. Anyway some kind of version of this review will be posted on amazon.co.uk, perhaps a little abbreviated and maybe less negative. Also, in this review I’m not avoiding spoilers, so perhaps check out what I post on goodreads or amazon if you’re worried about those.

To begin at the end, I should say that the book ends well, if a little strangely. That’s not to say that the ending is surprising – I actually think it was fairly predictable – but the penultimate chapter is structured slightly differently. Throughout the book each chapter has shifted the narrative voice (all third person) between three of the characters, which actually leads to quite a few of the problems I had with the book. But the penultimate chapter switches between all three, in sequence, and is really, really long. It could have been three chapters, and I’m not sure why it wasn’t.

The main reason why this structuring technique caused me problems is that the book begins by switching between a post-apocalyptic Earth and the fantasy world of Crescent (after which the series is named) and the viewpoints of the human John Bridgeman and the not-quite human Ceria, who is a creature with powers called a “Primitive”. The post-apocalyptic world is a bit I am Legend and was quite interesting, although not very well-developed. The switch to Crescent somewhat diminishes the tension which is building up as John learns that there is someone – or perhaps, something – else out there, and makes it fairly obvious where the story is going.

When John arrives in Crescent, the role which he should fulfill, in order to justify the use of our Earth in this way, is as an interested interloper into the world, who needs instruction and direction in order to understand the world in which he finds himself. Apart from an initial interest in the fact that other human beings had survived, John shows virtually no interest in Crescent, and just bumbles along through events without engaging with them. Another human survivor, the Brazillian Jago, in some ways fulfills this role. John’s reaction to him – finding him boring, and overenthusiastic about the world in which they find themselves. But I’m supposed to be interested enough in Crescent to be reading a book about it, so why does the figure through whom I am supposed to experience this world show so little interest in it? Ultimately I would say John is perhaps the books biggest flaw, as he is a singularly uninteresting character.

Another flaw in the writing is that most of the important events have already happen, or happen off-stage and are recited through the characters remembering them. “Show, don’t tell” is a bit of a cliché but generally speaking it is worth applying unless you’re certain that the other way works better. But Ceria and Telde are already on the run when they meet them; John is already the (almost) last human being alive. The villan of the piece, Malvedian, has done quite a few things which we only find out about much later, although his story is perhaps the best told. But this style persists: events happening between chapters and then being recited later; conversations take place but half of the dialogue is in reported speech, meaning that most of the characters don’t really have voices. It’s really difficult to get into the story when it’s being told in this way.

That being said, the book gets a lot better in Part 3 when the characters start doing things. A lot of the time they remain the passive recipients of events in the world, but sometimes they seem to play an active role in what they are doing, Malvedian especially. It is in this villan, where the story gets going, that Endless is really at it’s best, although his motives are never particularly clear at any point (it seems to be implied that he is a psychopath, but his later actions speak somewhat against that interpretation).  Part 4, then, is the best, apart from the uninteresting main character and the habit of telling of events which have happened rather than of those which are happening (an advantage, it must be said, that the penultimate chapter has – it is nearly all events which are currently happening).

Am I interested enough to read the next book in this series? Well, the writing showed promise and was at times very good; there are interesting ideas and potential. But to be honest, it will depend on the other books around at the time. One of the reasons why I might have been negative about this book is the sense of obligation I felt about reading it when I have so many other interesting things around which I would like to be reading right now. But there you have it: an OK fantasy romp which irritates at times but has some good bits, and shows potential for the future.

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3 thoughts on “Review: Endless – Matt Bone

  1. I agree that the post-apocalyptic vision of earth was interesting, and I was a bit disappointed when it was left behind. I think you’re being a bit unfair saying that John is uninteresting, though. I like a good antihero.

    Don’t really get your problems with the structure, either. Surely a non-linear structure is more conducive to keeping a story concise when it has so many active characters? Fairly certain that The Lord of the Rings employs similar devices, though I’ve not actually read it and am just going on my memory of the fillums.

    On a more passive-aggressive note, I’m SO SORRY to have OBLIGED you to spend a week reading something that isn’t on your 1000-books-to-read-before-I-die list. THANK YOU FOR YOUR EFFORTS.

    • OK – I know you’re being a little bit sarcastic, but I ought to explain that the “obligation” comment is meant to explain that I came to this book with a negative attitude which means that I will have reflected badly on it. It’s meant to be a statement of my bias, not a complaint towards you or Mr. Bone. I’m sorry that it comes across as such, that’s poor writing on my part. I also ought to have pointed out that I don’t read a lot of self-published books, so I don’t know how to set my standards, but also that lowering them seems patronizing. The only other originally self-published book is Eragorn, and Endless was better than Eragorn!

      Secondly, I wouldn’t hold tLotR up as an example of anything, except how to write a really, really long book. Actually, I would compliment this book on NOT being obviously Tolkien derivative which I might have expected from a self-published fantasy. My problem with the “non-linear” structure is that so much of the story was told through this device, when the actual present scenes were quite inactive scenes which I felt could have been cut down. Then the penultimate chapter clearly showed that Bone was capable of writing good action/dialogue/motion, which felt neglected in the earlier parts of the book. My own experience of writing is that you get better as you go along, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the last chapters are the best. And, if I were to consider reading a follow up, I ought to judge this on the last chapters, which I enjoyed, rather than the earlier chapters, a lot of which were set up.

      A better comparison might be to The Colour of Magic, which I don’t like. Does this mean that the Discworld series isn’t the best series of fantasy novels which I have read? Of course it doesn’t, they’re brilliant. But a first book is partly about finding your voice.

      And on the uninteresting main character point – again, this is supposed to be more about personal bias and I am sorry that I didn’t phrase it as such. A similar thing happened to me with the main character in Frederik Pohl’s Gateway, a worse offender because of its use of the first person. But despite being a fantastic idea and a very interesting story, I couldn’t enjoy that book as much because I just didn’t like the narrator.

      I hope that clarifies a few of the points, which I meant to do before posting a version of this review on goodreads or amazon or anywhere else where people might actually have read it. It comes across as much more negative than I meant it to when I wrote it, because half of the book I really rather enjoyed. But those couple of points really irritated me throughout and I had to expunge them from my brain somehow.

  2. Is Eragorn that thing about the unicorn? I’ll google it … Oh, dragon. What’s the one about the unicorn?

    Rather looking forward to your blog about 1st vs 3rd person, and then to arguing with you in the comments.

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