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5.0 out of 5 stars Stories of the travelers, 24 Feb 2014
By 
E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Imagine if the "Canterbury Tales" were told not by ordinary people on a pilgrimage, but magical beings in an otherworldly inn. That is the framing device for Neil Gaiman's eighth collection of Sandman comics, "World's End." Morpheus and the Endless have only small parts to play in this story, but it's enough to link together the assorted short stories -- and through it all, Gaiman conjures a sense of wonder and fear.

On a snowy night, a strange beast causes a car crash. Brant manages to carry his coworker Charlene to a nearby inn known as the World's End. It's probably a good thing that Brant seems slightly concussed, because inside are things he probably doesn't think are real -- gods, centaurs, faeries and other weird things that have also taken shelter.

To pass the time, they tell stories -- stories of slumbering cities; the Cluracan's clash with a vile psychopomp in a dying city; a cabin-boy glimpsing the strange mysteries of the sea; Prez Rickard, the greatest president in history; of the necropolis of Letharge; and of the mysteries that dwell inside and outside the inn...

One of Neil Gaiman's greatest skills is to make you see the terrifying, wondrous possibilities of fantasy -- of many worlds like apples on a tree, vast godlike entities walking through a starry sky, and forces so alien and powerful that it makes the spirit quake. Despite the Chauceresque setup of "World's End," these possibilities swim just under the surface.

So you don't see EVERYTHING in the World's End. It's all mirrors and smoke, shadows and flames -- and when you catch a glimpse, you KNOW that there's more to it. But you'll never be the same again.

But even if you take the stories on their own, they're pretty entertaining tales -- some are set in our world, while others are in weird places like the necropolis. There's a lot of weird macabre humor (the drunken Cluracan manages to be both scary AND funny) interspersed with the stories, and the human characters get intertwined with the World's End themselves by the volume's finale.

Morpheus only pops up a few times (mostly to rescue the main characters and pop back out), so a lot of the emphasis is on the people gathered at the inn. Some are frightening, some are comforting, some are weird, and some... are just drunk. The most disappointing part of this collection is the fact that you know there are more stories there, still not told. (Come on, how about that inkeeper?!)

"The Sandman Volume 8: World's End" is a brief stopover before the Sandman series' grand finale, reminding us of the beautiful, terrible world it inhabits.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable collection of stories overshadows by tragedy, 2 Dec 2012
By 
A. Whitehead "Werthead" (Colchester, Essex United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Sandman - Worlds End (Vol. 8) (New Edition) (Paperback)
Two travellers are driving across the United States, headed for Chicago. An unseasonable storm strands them at an inn, known as Worlds' End. Within waits a collection of fellow travellers from many worlds, all waiting for the storm to end. To pass the time they tell stories, stories from many worlds and many times.

Worlds' End is the eighth Sandman collection. It's a collection of self-contained short stories, but the stories feature recurring motifs. They are being told against the backdrop of a 'reality storm' that has been triggered by a cataclysmic event somewhere else in the multiverse (and, although a strong clue is given, we will not find out the nature of that event until the end of the following volume). It's Neil Gaiman's last chance to really exercise his imagination at short lengths before the beginning of the subsequent story arc, Sandman's largest and most epic, The Kindly Ones.

Worlds' End features a succession of stories, told by and featuring characters both new and familiar from the Sandman mythos. 'A Tale of Two Cities' is told in a minimalist art style, mostly through prose accompaniment, and features a traveller who loves his city so much that he becomes trapped in its dreams. It's weird and offbeat, and will probably appeal a lot to fans of China Mieville.

'Cluracan's Tale' features the return of the elf Cluracan, whose story is a bonkers collection of trickery, deception and a swordfight that may or may not have happened. It's lightweight (and Gaiman's not a huge fan of it, feeling it was too big for his page count and was consequently diminished in its impact) but fun. 'Hob's Leviathan' features a traditional narrative device, of a youngster running away to sea, and the return of one of the more popular Sandman characters, Hob Gadling, who was gifted with immortality by Dream and who meets him once a century to catch up. In this story, Hob is a passenger on a ship where the journey takes a turn for the very strange. It's a smart and tight story, with a couple of twists that are perhaps predictable but pulled off so well it doesn't really matter.

In 'The Golden Boy' Gaiman resurrects the fairly obscure DC character Prez Rickard, the first teenage President of the United States of America (running on an independent ticket). Set in an alternate United States, Prez becomes the embodiment of the hopes that Americans apparently place in their leaders: a virtuous man who helps the poor and needy without impoverishing the country, and manages to lower its debts. He resists corruption and survives tragedy (an attempted assassination that takes the life of his fiancee). A story about such a paragon sounds boring, but Gaiman infuses it with wit and some amusing lines and cultural references, not mention several nods to his friend Alan Moore's Watchmen. He also solves a minor puzzle about Dream that had been left dangling for almost five years by that point.

The next story, 'Cerements', is the most complex. Given there are nods in it to the work of Gene Wolfe - the inhumers share some similarities with the guild of torturers in The Book of the New Sun - this is to be expected. It is a tale told by Petrefrax, a prentice inhumer from the Necropolis Litharge. But within his tale, three others tell their tales (one of which contains a short story in itself). The result is a complex Russian's doll of narratives nestled within one another, seemingly disconnected but featuring some key insights into the Endless and (another recurring element in these stories) the nature of how they die. Compared to Cluracan's story (which is lightweight but baggy), 'Cerements' is fiendishly complex but told with impressive economy.

At the end of the collection - after a meta-aside in which a woman at the inn complains about the sexism of the story-tellers - the storm ends with a haunting vision of vast figures in the sky, a clue as to what caused the storm and the event that will drive the remainder of the series.

Worlds' End uses a familiar device (influenced by The Canterbury Tales) but does so with wit and intelligence. The stories are decent, with Cluracan's perhaps being the least memorable, and feature some wonderful fantastical imagery. 'The Golden Boy' also flirts with politics, not the nitty-gritty of ideologies, but what people want from their leaders, no matter how unrealistic. There is also a feeling of doom overhanging the collection, of events, no matter how seemingly disconnected, being linked to a tragedy whose own story is yet to be told.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love them., 30 July 2014
By 
Mrs. J. L. Friedlander "Jay" (South of England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Rounding out my sandman collection. Love them.
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Sandman - Worlds End (Vol. 8) (New Edition)
Sandman - Worlds End (Vol. 8) (New Edition) by Neil Gaiman (Paperback - 24 Feb 2012)
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