Saturday, 22 July 2017

The End of the Day


Book Title: The End of the Day
Author: Claire North
Date Started: July 2nd 2017
Date Completed: July 22nd 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Fantasy
Quality Rating: Four Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Four Star
Final Rating: Four stars

◆ Thanks to NetGalley for this ebook for review ◆

North drives this book with a really interesting concept: before Death, comes his Harbinger, sometimes as a warning or sometimes as a courtesy. For a novel that, at its core, looks at the end of life and reason, The End of the Day is pulled off with a sense of humour and thoughtfulness that makes it a pleasure to read.

What sold the writing for me was North's ability to fuel her story and the darker things it explores with humour; not laugh-out-loud laughter or uncontrollable giggling, but a gentle amusement that lifts a story that is, essentially, about one man dealing with seeing worlds collapsing and ending. The pinnacle of this humour being Death him/herself. While I could talk about the character of Death for a long time, he was great in both concept and character; changing for all who see him, but patient and understanding, and willing to let human nature makes its own choices. In fact, all of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse were clever and engaging, as were their Harbingers. All this time there are people reacting with anger and fear and sadness to Charlie's appearance, but North makes it clear to the audience that this is life, and it's the way it has to be, even if it is at times unfair. That perspective is needed to understand the directions the narrative is driven in.
And you can't have a story about Death unless you highlight what life is, and North does this both through her characters and the cultures Charlie visits. Admittedly, the worst parts of some cultures (this book will make you never want to go to America), but beautiful little details within them as well. North must have done plenty of research while writing because you do feel transported to these places while you're reading, even if it's the grittier side of some of them.

This book feels a lot like a collection of narrative meditations on life and culture and how it all ends. It's all held together as a story by the lovely protagonist, Charlie, who goes through various experiences of honouring and warning those who lie in Death's path. It took me a while to get used to the not-quite-episodic structuring of this book, but once you get into the flow of it really being about Charlie and how he deals with it, it starts to make a lot more sense.
Towards the end, we go into a more traditional sort of narrative climax that I wasn't the biggest fan of because it felt so... dramatic next to what had been such a quiet and gentle story. It was by no means badly chosen or executed but felt somewhat out of the blue; we're starting to see the job take its toll on Charlie, but suddenly we have a big dangerous opposition to round it off instead of a quieter conclusion. Regardless, I enjoyed the more thoughtful outlook on something that could very easily have become a depressing nostalgic plot line about the hopelessness of mankind. We see glimpses of this, but it's a book about a lot more than what people are scared of most.

Charlie was a refreshing choice for someone in his position. You'd expect the Harbinger of Death to be hardened by it all, and hiding emotions under it, but Charlie is an honest nice guy who tries to be polite, and it thoughtful to his core. Which means that meeting those Death is coming for takes its toll - which is what makes this book interesting. I didn't realise at first quite what the point of the story was until I started noticing the little ways in which Charlie was changing, and realised that this isn't a story about Death and its path, but the Harbinger himself.
In order to make it this more detailed look at the bigger picture, North has a selection of smaller, recurring characters throughout Charlie's story. His girlfriend, Emmi; Patrick the business man; the previous Harbinger of Death; the humorous Harbinger of War. It's important when looking at such a big subject to find ways of making it quiet and personal, and North does this by creating this little world around Charlie while he travels the wider one.

The End of the Day is a clever and thoughtful book that is anything but depressing, even when it looks into the darker sides of Death and what it means. Really, it is about Charlie, and it'll get you thinking just as much as he does, about what the end of things really means.

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