Friday, September 16, 2016

Ferrying souls to the afterlife for fun and profit

The Ferryman Institute

By Colin Gigl

Publisher: Gallery Books

Pub. Date: September 27, 2016

Rating: 4 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

Charlie Dawson is a ferryman. He meets humans at their appointed time of death and persuades them into opening the door to the hereafter. It's an important job. If one does not enter into whatever is after death they become lost spirits on earth destined to wither away into non-existence. Charlie has been doing it for 250 years and has gained a legendary status as the ferryman who never failed an assignation. The result though, is that he is burned out by all the deaths that happened without his ability to do anything but watch them die. Until one day when he receives an unique choice seconds before a woman is about to kill herself. "Be a ferryman or save the girl. Your choice."

Colin Gigl's The Ferryman Institute is a modern fantasy with satirical edges. It is easy to compare with Christopher Moore's A Dirty Job since it has a similar plot and a similar style with an equally sharp wit. Yet there is a major difference. While A Dirty Job is satirical farce all the way through, The Ferryman Institute takes a more serious action-packed turn half-way through. It still remains funny and clever yet the reader acquired a more grounded concern for the characters and may realize the theme of the novel may not be all that light and funny. It's a nice move that prevent the novel from be another satire on death and modern life.

Yet that satirical tone does remains and it is quite entertaining. The Ferryman Institute, founded by Charon of course, is a corporation that holds a monopoly on the guiding of recently deceased spirits to their lives after death, whose form is a mystery as much to the ferryman as it is to us. But they are aware other smaller organizations are ready to take up the slack if they falter. The similarities to our own compartmental life in the rat race is part of the satire which takes on a Terry Gilliam style absurdity at some points.

Yet Charlie remains the focus of the book. He is the well performing cog in the system who can get away with things others can due to his brilliant performance. Yet he is slowly burning out and regretting his immortality. There are reasons for this but we don't receive them right away. Gigl feeds them to us slowly and painlessly through the antics and farce of the coming confusion and chaos. The girl he meets is another well written protagonist. Moments before killing herself, she becomes embroiled in a world she did not know exist with a man who she sees more as a kidnapper than a hero.

As far as satiric fantasies goes, this is far and away one of the best. The comparisons to Christopher Moore are deserved yet this is a debut novel and shows some cracks that reveal it. The switch halfway through could be a little more smooth and sometimes the cleverness of Charlie gets a little annoying. But these are minor issues when compared to the vastly entertaining value of the novel at whole. And as I said, there is a more serious tone lurking in the book that , if nurtured in the author's future writings, can take this writer's work above the loads of satiric fantasies out there on the shelves. Comedic fantasies are not easy to do convincingly yet the Ferryman Institute, both book and venue, were real and sincere enough to convince me.

Four and a half stars.

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