Jonathan Oliver (ed.) – The End of the Road

jonathanoliver-endoftheroadEach step will lead you closer to your destination, but who, or what, can you expect to meet at journey’s end?

Here are stories of misfits, spectral hitch-hikers, nightmare travel tales and the rogues, freaks and monsters to be found on the road.

The critically acclaimed editor of Magic, The End of The Line and House of Fear has brought together the contemporary masters and mistresses of the weird from around the globe in an anthology of travel tales like no other. Strap on your seatbelt, or shoulder your backpack, and wait for that next ride… into darkness.

Scary stories are still tricky reads for me. The balance between deliciously scary and nightmare-inducing is a thin line. As opposed to End of the Line which was straight-up horror, End of the Road takes road stories on with a slant to the weird, but still there are some pretty scary stories here. However, they stayed firmly on the side of deliciously scary, even if some of them pushed the line quite closely.  

I enjoyed this anthology quite a bit, though some of the stories didn’t really resonate with me, most notably the stories by Reeve and Nevill. Coincidentally, these were the opening and closing stories of the anthology. Technically, they were good stories and the craft that went into them was great, but they both made me feel impatient to get to the ending and not because I needed to know how the tale ended. The thing that put me off We Know Where We’re Goin, the Philip Reeve story, was also its major strength: the rhythm and, for want of a better word, dialect the story is told in. I usually don’t mind dialects in my fiction, but in this case even though it was really well done, it grated more than it worked for me. In the case of Adam Nevill’s story, Always in Our Hearts, while I appreciated the structure and plot, I just couldn’t connect to the characters and their emotions. However, even if these two didn’t work for me, there were plenty of others that did. The following ones were the ones I connected to the most.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Fade to Gold
Fade to Gold features an interesting protagonist, a soldier who is quickly revealed to be female by the woman she meets on the road, who in turn has her own secret to keep. They decide to travel together and what follows is a poignant story about societal expectations, impossible love, and destroying something you treasure before you’ve discovered its worth.

Dagiti Timayap Garda (of the Flying Guardians) – Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
As with Fade to Gold, Dagiti Timayap Garda features a mythical being. I loved Arbo, the Flying Guardian protagonist and his journey towards the future. To say more of his story and of the young human man, Kagawan, who accompanies him would quickly lead to spoilers; suffice it to say, the twist ending was unexpectedly hopeful.

Bingo – S.L. Grey
In this story S.L. Grey take the question “What would you do to spare someone extended suffering?” and combine it with what seems to be a burning case of road rage. It creates a rather effective blend of horror and fascination. The story, which is only about ten pages long, is also packed with social commentary: on peer pressure, on the lengths people will go to in order to get ahead, on old boy’s networks, and on the objectification of women.

Peripateia – Vandana Singh
Singh’s story would definitely qualify as weird. I found it fascinating as there was so much to unpack. There’s the question of what happened to the main character and her partner, for the latter to walk out giving no explanation for the why of her departure. The mystery of what exactly this road that appears to Sujata exactly is. And perhaps in the end, how much of it was real? Peripateia, the Greek word for turning point gives clues to the answers to all of those questions. I found this a clever story, with fascinating ideas – even though following some of the schemas and scientific hypotheses made my brain hurt – and a beautiful, moving ending.

Through Wylmere Woods – Sophia McDougall
A companion piece to Mailer Daemon, from Oliver’s last anthology Magic, the novelette Through Wylmere Woods gives us the origin story for Morgane and her daemon Levanter-Sleet. Sophia McDougall goes into the genesis of the story on her blog. Through Wylmere Woods is my absolute favourite story of the anthology, because as usual McDougall weaves a fantastic tale. What makes this story so wonderful is that it not only looks closely at what it is like to be abused by your family for being different, McDougall also approaches how Morgane’s perception of herself differs from the way others perceive her with wonderful sensitivity and care. I loved Morgane’s emotional connection to Mr Levanter-Sleet. He was the embodiment of the notion that darkness doesn’t necessarily equal evil. Theirs is a wonderful bond and the resolution of Morgane horrific home life was quite dark, but satisfying nonetheless. I’d love to read more about these two in the future. Let’s hope they pester McDougall until she writes about them!

Overall, The End of the Road is another solid anthology edited by Jonathan Oliver. What I especially enjoyed about this collection of stories was its diversity. Oliver included authors from all over the world and stories set all over the world, which results in a rich tapestry of mythology and landscape to the stories. If you like weird stories or stories about change and discovery, then I’d definitely recommend picking up The End of the Road.

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