The Forever Man is one of those books that defies easy categorisation. Is it an occult detective story? A portal fantasy? A retelling of older fantasy stories? Well, it’s a bit of all of those, making something new.
Dr Andrew Pryde is sitting in the reference library, reading a book on philosophy when he looks up to discover the police tending to a dead body that has somehow appeared while he was reading. Naturally, Dr Pryde is a suspect and finds himself investigating the mysterious death in order to clear his own name.
He is joined by the young loner, Ronald Gibbs, who spends far too much time in internet chat rooms and seems to know more about what happened than he’s letting on. Dr Pryde does not trust Ronald but has little option but to work with him.
The first half of the book follows the two men as they try to find out more about the victim and what happened to her, while avoiding the police and the beast that stalks the city, looking for Andrew.
The second half follows their adventures after one of them is mortally wounded and they are forced to flee through a portal to a place between worlds.
From this point, the story has clear echoes of The Magician’s Nephew, the first book in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. I loved this nod to a fantasy story that so many of us read as children, but it’s dealt with in a completely updated way.
The world-building in this book is great, with Andrew and Ronald visiting several worlds and overcoming obstacles on all of them. Stroud manages to give a sense of a wider world beyond the pages of this book in a relatively small space of story.
I would have liked to see the characters developed a bit further and being more proactive. They seem to be pushed along by events without making many decisions that drive the plot. However, that would reflect how many of us feel on a day-to-day basis I suspect and therefore probably more accurately reflects real life than characters who are always acting rather than reacting, shaping their own destinies.
For me, the ending felt a bit rushed. I felt as though I had only just got to grips with everything that was happening and how it all connected when the book was over and there were definitely characters and plot lines that I would have liked to have seen more of. But then, all authors have to walk that tightrope of giving the readers enough but not too much. Keep the pacing up and the word count down.
If you’re looking for something different, something that will challenge your assumptions about what fantasy is, then The Forever Man is worth your time to read. Give it a shot.