Review: The end of the trail by Louis Rakovich

End of the trail is what I would call a long short story and, as such, sets a challenge for a dark fantasy writer. Fantasy worlds often require a sophisticated skill of world-building to provide the backdrop to the story, without intruding like a ham-fisted voice-over (cue James Mason overtones). Rakovich immerses the reader in his world straight away. The story is told in the voice of the main character, so we know he’s going to survive until at least the last few paragraphs. Within a couple of pages we are dropped into the wintery world of a community that has its subsistence in the mining and refining of salt. This, as far as I am aware, is a unique angle and with just a few masterfully rich phrases, Rakovich has the reader wrapping up in a thick sealskin and smelling the salt-laden air. This brings me to the real strength of Rakovich’s writing – the crisp, metaphor-laden descriptions of the scenes and the characters. I have read a great deal of epic fantasy and it’s often a chore wading through the long descriptions, backstory and complex, unpronounceable names. Rakovich enchants you with his imagery in the way that Le Guinne or Moorcock used to, and there is no sense of having to work hard to engage with the story.
The atmosphere created in the tale reminded me a lot of Robert E. Howard – bleak, unforgiving but very human. The sense of magic is subtly woven into the narrative without it coming across as ‘comic-book’ or cliched. I particularly loved the character of the witch and the nameless beast that the MC meets in the forest. Rakovich has also created a folklore feel to the story. You almost feel that this could be a tale told around viking campfires – such is the authenticity.
If you’re looking for an ending that fulfils every foreshadowing and neatly ties together all the elements of the plot, then you might be disappointed. I was left feeling that there were a lot of questions I still wanted answers to, like this was an enticing pilot episode to a whole season that would develop this world and it’s characters. This is not to say that the ending is unsatisfying, just that it promises more. Indeed, I hope that Rakovich dips into this world in future stories; if not with these characters, then with others that will tantalise and speak their story as these nameless ones have.

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