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Thursday, July 16, 2020

Endsville by Clay Sanger (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski & Mihir Wanchoo)

Order Endsville over HERE (USA)HERE (UK)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Clay Sanger is a professional technogeek by day and a writer of fiction and whatever else strikes his fancy the rest of the time. A life-long lover of all things wild, Clay spent much of his early adulthood wandering the four corners of the country in search of the weird and wonderful, the dark and the light. As chance would have it, he found them. The rest is a tale yet to be told. After meandering far and wide he returned to his native Ozarks where he lives with his dazzling wife, their sons, and a menagerie of mythical creatures both real and imagined.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Welcome to Los Angeles—where the secret worlds of the criminal and supernatural collide. Crime and black magic pay. In the City of Angels, no one does it better than Gabriel St. John and the House of the Crow…

Led by their enigmatic street captain Gabriel, the Crows are a secret coven of high-rolling occult gangsters operating out of Los Angeles. A gangland king by the name of Dante Washington enlists their aid to recover 34 million dollars in cash—stolen from him by what appears to be a hostile sorcerer.

The Crows battle through a vicious cycle of betrayal, violence, and black magic while on the hunt for Mr. Washington’s missing money. In the end, allies prove to be enemies, and there are much greater things at stake than covering up a multi-million dollar gangland heist.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (Mihir): Endsville is a debut that feels like it’s specifically written to counter most (if not all) of what the urban fantasy genre has to offer. I was intrigued by the blurb and bought a copy. The story focuses the St. John family consisting of Victor, Fiona, Gabriel & Delilah and the house of the Crow.

Situated in Los Angeles, we are introduced to the all four of the family members and their individual strengths and foibles. At the same time, we get a sense of the wider world and the criminal world within. The main plot begins with when the Crows are offered a wholesome bounty to sort out a crime from an overlord by the name of Dante Washington. The readers are given an in-depth insight in to each of the four family members with Gabriel and Delilah sharing the lion's share of the spotlight. Victor and Fiona while being equally important don't get as many POV chapters as their children. Gabriel is a high ranked member among the house of the Crows as his tattooed insignia indicates (see the cover). Delilah on the other hand doesn't have any visible insignia but she shares a lot of the gang's secrets and motivations behind their actions. She is also a magical heavy hitter and does take on the more arcane aspects of their family’s needs. Gabriel is a person who keeps his emotions bottled up thoroughly and Delilah is on a similar path (though not to the same degree). She also has a sordid past which gets touched upon in this opening volume. Both the siblings are shown to self medicate in various ways (legal and illegal). Victor St. John has a presence about himself and his children as well as his gang members acknowledge it while giving him the respect he deserves. Fiona is more of a proper matriach but doesn’t have as much of an in-depth role in this opening volume. There's a few other other characters who the readers can RAFO. These characters are very much like the Lannisters (with their dysfunction) in this absorbing crime drama.

Endsville is dark, hell it’s about a family who presides over a biker clan and certainly draws some glorious comparisons with Sons Of Anarchy. This story is very epic in scope and major props to Clay Sanger for his glorious descriptions of gang heraldry and culture. The best part of the story for me was the characterization, beginning with the St. John family, each member is a distinct persona with one hell of a backstory. We get some solid ideas about each of them and then some. There's also other characters who are introduced such as the Watch as well other arcana users who I hope the author explores more of.  The author has just barely scratched the surface with this stoty and it very much felt like this was the grand opening to an epic crime noir story but laced with magic and horror. The world and gang heraldry which is introduced is very, very well depicted. I really liked this aspect and it reminded me a lot of George R. R. Martin's ASOIAF with the gang slogans (similar to the house mottos) as well as gang logo (a la house sigils) & tattoos which take on extensive meaning as they increase in their size and colour . The author has taken pains to really allow the readers for an immersive experience and I can't thank the author enough for it.

The plot has numerous threads and with each POV change, we get another facet of life and a newer sub-plot to follow. I like this multifaceted approach as that's rarely been done in the urban fantasy genre. There's also the noir approach to the plot and while this isn't a procedural, the story is heaped in a crime-infested LA that will feel at home for most noir/mystery readers. I loved how the author showcased Los Angeles and how magic has shaped the world within and around it. Lastly the pacing as well as the author's writing style are pretty distinct. The pace builds up quickly from the first couple of chapters and never lets up. Clay's prose is hard-hitting, he aptly showcases these terrifying, flawed characters but yet makes them seem human and understandable. The writing has a lot of imagery to it and I loved how we could taste the grittiness as well as get a strong sense of how complicated the world is.  This was a perfect debut in my estimate as I had next to no complaints about it. However it’s not for everyone, those who have a hard time with gritty stories, grey-to-dark characters and lots of violence should avoid this book entirely. For those readers for whom these factors sound inviting, this book is gonna blow your mind and then some…

CONCLUSION: Exciting characterization, epic plot scope and a unique story made this debut land a special place in my heart. I can’t wait to see what Clay Sanger does in the sequel. Hell after reading this story, anything else that he writes becomes a must read for me. 

"We’re bad people... We lie. We cheat. We steal. We kill. So long as we take out the trash and keep the peace with the other liars, cheaters, thieves, and killers, nobody really cares."
Endsville is the first in a new series, Outlaw Arcana, from Clay Sanger, author of a few short stories published in various anthologies. I’ve read none of his stories and I don’t remember how and why I pre-ordered his debut novel. I woke up one day, opened my Kindle and there it was. 

The story occurs in Los Angeles and introduces readers to the House of the Crow. Led by their enigmatic street captain Gabriel, the Crows are a secret coven of high-rolling occult gangsters. A gangland king enlists their aid to recover 34 million dollars in cash—stolen from him by what appears to be a hostile sorcerer. 

On the hunt for missing money, The Crows battle through a vicious cycle of betrayal, violence, and black magic. Allies prove to be enemies and relatively simple mission turns into something much more sinister. 

St. John family's members have no redeeming qualities. Fierce and brutal, they’ve built their occult crime dynasty on ruthless laws and sense of loyalty. Anyone who joins Crows becomes part of a highly dysfunctional and toxic family. They care for each other and share strong bonds but have no mercy for disobedience, traitors, enemies, and the outside world. The story is split in three main POVs:

Gabriel St. John: Crow‘s street captain. Brutal, efficient, traumatised. Drinks a lot, sleeps around, rides Harley. Sounds flat? Probably. Nothing further from the truth though. Gabriel is one of the most intriguing anti-heroes I know.

Delilah St. John: a gifted occult practitioner struggling with a few addictions.

Victor St. John: Lord Crow, head of the family. Always calm, composed and calculating. You don‘t play with him because when you do bad things happen. Victor emanates power and stands out as a fascinating character.

I found them fascinating. Each character feels distinct, each of them brings to the story their own individual aspect. Victor remains mysterious and composed when all hell breaks loose and that makes him fascinating. He bears a resemblance to Mr. Church from the Joe Ledger novels or John Marcone from the Dresden Files. Gabriel and Delilah are deeply flawed and traumatised individuals. Sanger’s writing speaks to me on a visceral level. He understands how to write inner darkness better than most and this skill makes Delilah and Gabriel’s chapters a dark treat.

Clay's writing is smooth and articulate. He doesn‘t shy away from slang, bad language, or sharp sentences but it all works. His pacing is excellent. Endsville is a page-turner with no lags.

Despite significant length the book feels directed and purposeful. There were just few places where I could have said something in the book might not be essential to the story at large. 

I never expected to fall in love with bad guys with no redeeming qualities, but I did. Sanger’s world is terrifying and brutal, but also complex and fascinating. It convincingly portrays flawed individuals who struggle with substance abuse, occult addiction, toxic and abusive family relationships and living a life of crime. 

An excellent book, but approach it with caution. It contains lots and lots of violence (including mentions of rape), sex and bad language. 



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