- Title: The Childless Ones
- Author: Cam Rhys Lay
- Series: None
- Genre: Epic Fantasy, Literary Fiction, Literary Short Stories
- Publishing Date: October 9th, 2018
- Publishing Co: Gowanus Press
- Length: 438 pages
- Format: Kindle, Paperback
- Acquired: Given free digital version in exchange for an honest review
- Amazon Link: The Childless Ones
In the “real world,” we open with Jack Ampong just leaving a prostitute when he receives a phone call that his wife Sarah has been assaulted. With this incident as a jumping off point, we watch as Jack and Sarah deal with past guilt and regrets as well as their own ongoing struggles with relationships, infertility and parenthood.
In the “fantasy world”—ostensibly written by Jack—a bureaucratic Empire rules with an iron fist…an ancient sect of sorcerers have extraordinary powers but are cursed with the inability to have children… and a race of beings called the Mandrakar live lives one quarter the length of normal people, but have memories that are passed on to future generations through the last of an ancient breed of tree. Along the way, we meet a crotchety governor who just wants to do right by his granddaughter, a hardboiled, lesbian, dwarf detective who just wants another drink, and a villainous sorcerer whose motives form one of the central mysteries of the story.
Throughout the book, the two narratives echo off one another—often in surprising ways—ultimately commenting on the very nature of storytelling itself.
First Chapter Challenge: 4%
In this first chapter, we see Jack cheating on his wife with a prostitute… And it’s not the first time. While he is feeling guilty about his most recent transgression, he gets a phone call from Sarah’s brother, who informs him that she is in the hospital after being attacked. As we witness Jack and Sarah’s life falling apart in this very short period of time, little warning signs pop up in front of us; Sarah’s disregard for Jack’s writing, Jack not being able to pay the bills, Sarah going to her brother’s with a duffle bag… I want to know what is going to happen to this couple! Will this tragedy pull them closer together? Or will it ricochet them apart?
Final Judgment: 5 Stars out of 5
In this novel of intermixing stories of reality and fantasy, Jack is our guy. He is the man whose life we follow in the reality version along with his wife’s (soon-to-be-ex) life. We see both struggling in their different relationships, while also steadily overcoming their respective pasts. As for the fantasy side of the novel, we meet a variety of characters, almost as a short-story anthology, all connected at the end. We go on various journeys with different races, different magic, different purposes in mind. But all seem to bear some similarity to the real world that Jack is suffering through currently. He uses this fantasy world to cope with his reality, and it creates a surreal narrative that is an ultimate pleasure to read.
In stories, there could be heroism and great deeds and redemption.
In the real world, there was just…life (Loc 318)
At the beginning of the novel, it was difficult to keep all the different characters distinct. We actually don’t get to see much of Jack and Sarah together, though the opening chapter of the book definitely piques my interest! Actually, I believe that the first two chapters (setting up the reality side and the fantasy side) are the best, though the last few are also a close second in my mind. But back to my point, there are so many characters, especially with the various short stories in the fantasy side of the novel that it is difficult to keep track of them all. After a while, I began to forget exactly how some characters fit into the fantasy world, and sometimes the fantasy and reality worlds blended together to where I couldn’t remember who was in which world! Perhaps that it what Cam Rhys Lay was going for, this blending of fantasy and reality that Jack, our main character is experiencing in his own life.
One of the benefits that writing stories afforded him was the ability to gain perspective–to look at himself not as himself, but as a character in a story, the story of his own life and the story of others’ lives. Stories hinged on the decisions of their characters, decisions that would come to define both the characters and the story as a whole (Loc 7427).
With this being said, there is an amazing amount of detail with the characters, different cultures, as well as even military and politics! This book contains them all, and explains/describes everything in such exquisite detail that I feel as if I know exactly what is going on, as if I could recognize each of these characters if I happened to pass them on the street.
The writing style of Cam Rhys Lay is also noteworthy. To begin and end each chapter, he has some sort of third-party news stories/articles/social media posts. As such, it gives us even more avenues with which to relate to the characters and view them from a completely different source than the traditional author’s take. Additionally, the entire novel is reminiscent of the stream of conscious writing style.
It was then that the premonition materializes in his mind’s eye again.
The dark-skined man stabbing the red-cloaked figure with Kam’s dagger (Loc 6964).
As for the entire story itself, along with its intermixing of fantasy and reality, I love how connected the two are. One character with a distinct attribute in one world will show up in the other world within a chapter or two. You can practically see the wheels turning in Jack’s mind, where he gets his inspiration from and how he is coping by hiding within this fantasy reality. It is also interesting to note, that similar to Jack, the actual author, Cam Rhys Lay, also includes some of himself within our story! It is quite meta, with almost 3 different stories intermingled! I absolutely love how connected everything is, how the last few chapters tie everything together; the reality side, every single one of the fantasy stories, even our real real world.
Faced with the chaos of the world, they looked for things to help make sense of it all (Loc 5670).
Overall, this book was a fantastic read, as evidenced by my 5 star review! It was entertaining, pulled on my heart strings, AND managed to make me angry at a character or two a few times. I felt deeply connected to both worlds and its characters, and I loved seeing the progression of both. The fact that the entire fantasy side was cloaked within a mystery that did not reveal itself until one of the last chapters kept me on the edge of my seat, reading with fervor through this GIANT book. It was definitely well worth the time commitment!