Tuesday 11 October 2016

The Ferryman Institute by Colin Gigl

The Ferryman Institute is a fantasy novel with a premise that's more unique than most. Our hero, Charlie, is a ferryman, someone whose purpose is to accompany the souls of the recently departed and safely transfer them to their afterlife.

With its striking and evocative cover and its original premise, I was immediately sold on the book. Honestly, I could fawn over the beauty of the cover for a while - I adore it. That said, Colin Gigl imagines the Ferryman Institute as an office-based, public service type organisation. There are sadly no rivers to row across, no souls in the Styx...

Charlie's job, in fact, is to be there when a person dies, and when the spirit appears, to convince the spirit to walk through a door towards the light (their afterlife), rather than staying behind on Earth and becoming a ghost, doomed to fade from existence. His job is made hard by the mental state of the spirits just after death: depending on their demise, they can be distressed, confused, terrified, irrational...

We soon learn that Charlie is the best among Ferrymen: he has never failed to convince a spirit to walk through the door. He's the only Ferryman with such a perfect record, and he's been doing his job for a long while. But all is not well with Charlie: his work is eating away at him, grinding down his own soul. Unfortunately for him, he's immortal (and unable to sense pain), so it seems like he's stuck. Until, that is, a special assignment offers him a choice...

The novel is the story of what happens after Charlie makes that choice. It's in large parts a chase thriller, accompanied by wise cracking dialogue and sarcasm. The story moves at a cheerful pace and never fails to entertain.

On the other hand, if you're looking for something more than light entertainment, The Ferryman Institute is probably not for you. The humour is pleasantly diverting, but not cutting or particularly memorable. The story seems a little less original than I'd hoped for (it has quite a lot in common with Chris Holm's Dead Harvest, while the Ferrymen seem surprisingly similar to Dead Like Me - style grim reapers). Characters can occasionally seem a little contradictory (Charlie can go to and fro between being super-competent and completely gormless. Alice's ability to be humorous and sarcastic seems somewhat at odds with her debilitating depression). The plot can feel a little predictable. And the book does this post-post-postmodern thing of referencing pop culture a lot. One character even chose his own name from pop culture references. It feels a little like cheating - as if the author is either overly self-conscious of characters being too similar to others that went before, or as if the author is trying to use a shorthand way of telling the reader what to think and expect of a character / situation.

Basically, The Ferryman Institute is a good first novel. Solidly entertaining, fast paced and fun. A promising start, though not quite as memorable and original as I'd hoped.

Rating: 3.5/5

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