In a fairly short time, Chris Roberson has become an extremely prolific writer, having published just over a dozen books in the last four years. What’s even more impressive is how he fluctuates between subgenres in his stories, and in some cases like End of the Century, in the same book.
Roberson gives us three stories/story threads here: Alice Fell, a young girl with visions that pull her to London and involve her in a caper; Galaad, a young fighter of Artor’s realm in Briton who has his own 0visions which eventually lead he and his King on a quest; and a Victorian era mystery as the enigmatic Sandford Blank and his sidekick/associate Miss Roxanne Bonaventure, investigate a potential serial killer. Essentially, these are Roberson’s analogues to Galahad and his Quest for the Grail, Alice in Wonderland, and Holmes & Watson.
It would be unsurprising for one of the three story strands to either be stronger or take dominance over the other two. Roberson is a better writer than that – there isn’t a sense that one is more important than the other. In fact, he crafts the plot and story so well that each story, by novel’s end, could not really function without the other two. As the stories develop, elements common to all three pop-up; in particular, a dark hunter pursues Alice in the “Millennium” (c. 2000) storyline, while a similar Huntsman stalks Blank & Bonaventure.
Another easy trap for a writer to succumb to with such (initially) disparate story threads is to play with the reader in a negative manner. Often, a novel that flips back and forth between characters viewpoints and even timelines could suffer greatly from contrived cliffhanger chapter endings. Not so with Roberson – although he leaves the reader in anticipation of what will happen next to Alice Fell just before jumping into Galaad’s story, he never does so in a manner that would build to a level of annoyance in the reader. Rather, he just makes you want to read more, so you get wrapped up in Galaad’s quest with Artor only to be thrown into Victorian England with Blank and Bonaventure.
Roberson dedicates this novel to Kim Newman (who I’ve yet to read), Alan Moore, and Michael Moorcock (both of whom I’ve read). Their influence can definitely be seen in the elements Roberson uses as the backstory of the novel and multiverse in which the novel is set. Furthermore, people have read some of Roberson’s other fictional offerings (in particular the excellent Paragaea) will surely recognize the name Bonaventure and Carmody.
The storytelling device Roberson used to tie everything together initially felt a bit contrived to me. As the narrative continued; however, and even perhaps the structure of how he placed this revelation in relation to the whole novel, made it work in the end. It was logical in a way that didn’t undermine anything he’d previously revealed in the story and also didn’t presuppose any sort of pandering to the reader.
An important element that comes across in End of the Century is the sense of adventure and larger things at play. I got the sense that Roberson had a lot of fun writing this novel. While it is a rollicking tale (or trio of them), things like the power of memory and story, and a cosmology we only see hints of are both hinted at and embedded like Easter Eggs within the novel. In other words, he adds these details as great parts of the story but these details also work as a wink to readers who are familiar with Roberson’s writing.
All told, Roberson manages to interlink the three story strands in a satisfying manner and kept me hooked until the very end of the novel. Another terrific novel from Roberson and the fine folks at Pyr.
© 2009 Rob H. Bedford