Review: The Pilgrims by Will Elliott

Title: The Pilgrims
Author: Will Elliott
Publication Date: March 18th, 2014
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 448
ISBN: 0765331888
Source: Purchased from B&N

Synopsis (from Publisher):
Eric Albright is leading a normal life until a small red door appears under a train bridge near his home. Then a ghostly being wakes him in the dead of night, with a message from another world: You are Shadow. In Levaal, the world between worlds, the dragon-gods grow restless in their sky prisons, and the Great Spirits struggle to contain them. Vous, the worlds Friend and Lord, simmers in madness as he schemes to join the ranks of gods. He and the Arch Mage have almost won their final victory over the Free Cities. A dark age dawns. But Eric and his friend Case are now Pilgrims, called to Levaal for a battle more ancient than the petty squabbles of men. And they will learn why some doors should not be opened. 
A | B&NGr

Will Elliott (born 1979) is an Australian literary horror fiction writer who lives in Brisbane, Queensland.
His debut novel The Pilo Family Circus was published in Australia in 2006 after winning the inaugural ABC Fiction Award (sponsored by ABC Books). The novel went on to win the Aurealis Award (co-winner: Best Horror novel, plus the Golden Aurealis Award), the Australian Shadows Award, the Ditmar Award (Best Novel), the Sydney Morning Herald's "Best Young Novelist Award" for 2007 and the 'Premios Nocte' Best Foreign Book Award 2011.The Pilo Family Circus also short-listed for the 2007 International Horror Guild Award for Best Novel.The Pilo Family Circus has been picked up for North American distribution by Victoria Blake's new publishing company,Underland Press and was scheduled to be one their debut novels in 2009.

Elliott dropped out of a law degree at 20 when he developed schizophrenia. Although The Pilo Family Circus is about a young man struggling with a psychotic alter-ego when he dons clown face paint, Elliott has said the novel is not autobiographical.

Elliott has written some short stories. His first published story "Ain't no ordinary ham" (Griffith Review, Sept 2006) was reprinted in Best Australian Stories 2006, ed. Robert Drewe (Black Ink, 2006).

  can be accused of judging a book based on the genre it’s from.  Fantasy is one of those genres for me.  Apart from a few exceptions and classics, fantasy is one of those genres that is littered with busty elves and all powerful Gandalf knock-off wizards and talking dragons acting out one trope after another with shameless regularity.  The beauty of The Pilgrims by Will Elliott is that he uses a lot of the same set pieces that make up trashy dime-a-dozen fantasy,  but his vision and imagination make it seem like this is the first book I have ever read with wizards and talking dragons. 

     The scope of the world he invents and the depth of the characters immediately draws you in to the story.  As expansive and detailed as the characters and setting are, Elliott never fails to keep you tightly focused on the individual details of the world and the personalities of the characters without getting bogged down with colorful and drawn-out descriptions.  Most fantasy novels use pretty much the same system of magic, and it almost always ends up getting overblown and ruining the plot in one way or another.  One of the greatest pieces of praise I can give Elliott is that his system of magic and casting is all his own.  Some of the finer elements as to its mechanics aren’t revealed until the second and third books (yes it’s a part of a trilogy), but from the beginning you can tell it is something different than what you are used to reading about.

The plot revolves around a young, normal man named Eric and his homeless, alcoholic friend Case.  They find a door to another world and when they enter (with little more than a handgun that Case pilfered) they come to realize they may have been a bit too hasty jumping into a world very different from their own.  They find themselves in a world of magic and unbelievable beauty juxtaposed by remarkable cruelty.  Their arrival comes at a time of upheaval and civil war in the land of Levaal.  In no time at all they are forced to fight for their lives in a war that is not their own.  Eric and Case try to find their feet but find themselves at the center of everything.  From homicidal mages to horrifying creatures, a mad king to hidden foes, they have their work cut out for them before things even get really dark.  It pains me to give such an incomplete description, but any more could steal the journey away from any would-be readers.

I will just go ahead and say that this is one of the best books I have read all year (aside from the second book in the series that I’m currently reading).  It isn't an intricately wrought Pulitzer contender, or a classic work of literature. The Pilgrims is, quite simply, an enjoyable, well thought-out, interesting story.

 I am saddened to hear that Will Elliott has distanced himself from the series after the completion of the trilogy. He has said that it isn’t the type of fiction that he should be writing and I can totally see where he’s coming from. His other works are of a deeper and more personal timbre and I can understand him feeling that his evocative voice is wasted on this brand of fiction but what might be his gain is certainly a loss for the genre.  I found myself being really drawn into caring for the characters and what happens to them. The world and the setting are equally intriguing and interesting. I never once felt that I was being sentenced to sitting through yet another ”Portal to a fantasy realm”, “fish out of water” carbon copy. The story felt fresh, gritty and real without losing the sense of fantasy and adventure that you expect from a fantasy novel.

The only criticism I can really give stems from the fact that this trilogy so far (again I am still on the second book, Shadow) seems like it is one long book cut into three parts almost arbitrarily.The ending of The Pilgrims doesn’t resolve as much as I would have hoped before picking up right where it left off in Shadow. Normally this wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but the second two books are increasingly hard to find in the U.S., especially in E-book format (legally). I would hope that wouldn’t turn anyone away from giving it a try though, because The Pilgrims and The Pendulum Trilogy this far are extremely worthwhile reads for any sci-fi, fantasy, or general fiction fan. Younger readers should avoid, because of some very adult content and violence. This shouldn’t be a follow up to Lord of the Rings as a bedtime story. When the kids are asleep, put on your wizard cap and your reading lamp and read yourself a bedtime story you’ll enjoy.

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