“By turns suspenseful and enchanting, this breathtaking first novel weaves a story of love, family, history, and myth as seen through the eyes of one immortal woman”
The God of Endings is the masterful debut novel by Jacqueline Holland, a literary dark fantasy that explores the purpose of life through the eyes of a reluctant immortal.
The novel opens in the 1830s with four-year-old Anna growing up in rural Stratton, New York. Her mother passed away during childbirth, leaving Anna behind with her father and newborn baby brother. Anna idolizes her artisan father, who carves tombstones for a living. Anna finds grim solace in the cemetery, despite rumors of the restless dead who may be brought back to life and bring affliction to the living. Anna is soon left alone after her father and brother succumb to illness. She experiences the same fate but then is unwillingly raised from the dead by her step- grandfather, endowed with the immortality of her newfound vampiric state.
The God of Endings jumps ahead to 1984, when Anna works as a teacher at an elite French-language preschool in upstate New York. Despite her reluctance to build any lasting connections, Anna gets involved with the family of one of her gifted but criminally neglected young pupils, whose parents are consumed by infidelity and addiction. Jacqueline Holland is a master at capturing the Northern Gothic aesthetic of rural upstate New York in both the 1830s and 1984 time periods.
The God of Endings skips across time and space, covering Anna’s early days as she crosses the Atlantic to build a new life in eastern Europe, where she learns the practical aspects of vampirism. The European scenes all have a fever dream-like quality to them, as if Anna is immersed in one of Grimms’ fairy tales. Indeed, Holland’s novel is steeped in Slavic folklore, especially the titular god of endings, Czernobog, who haunts Anna from the shadows. Czernobog casts a devil-like figure and also functions as the god of darkness, evil, chaos, death, and night.
As an adult during World War II, Anna becomes a teacher in a small French village and assumes an alternate persona known as the Nachte Bestie (night beast), an inhuman phantom who hunts Nazis under the shroud of night. While a passive character in much of The God of Endings, these scenes convey Anna at her most outwardly assertive, while she simultaneously wages an inner war to control her thirst for blood.
The basic premise of The God of Endings, i.e., following the lonesome life of a protagonist who defies human mortality, parallels the classic 1820 Gothic fantasy, Melmoth the Wanderer, by Irish novelist Charles Maturin. The idea was explored more recently by V.E. Schwab in her popular romantic fantasy, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. Although their initial setups are similar, The God of Endings explores much darker territory than Addie LaRue. Jacqueline Holland wisely forgoes romance in The God of Endings, focusing on weightier themes such as the search for meaning and permanence in a life where everything is transient. Whereas Schwab skips over most of Addie’s life between childhood and the present-day, Holland thoroughly explores the possibilities of what her main character encounters across continents and centuries.
Holland’s writing is beautiful and accessible, with the caveat of having an appreciable amount of untranslated dialogue in French and German. The French and German usage is all very elementary, so I didn’t have a problem understanding these sections. But it could be an issue for readers with no prior exposure to either of these languages.
Although at times it felt like the story had too many disparate plot threads, Jacqueline Holland proves herself to be the god of endings as she ties everything together and delivers a multi- layered emotional punch at the end of the novel that both questions and affirms the nature of life and human existence.
Altogether, The God of Endings is a hauntingly beautiful dark fantasy that serves as a meditation on the arrogance and love associated with bringing new life into the world. Let’s hope that The God of Endings is just the beginning for Jacqueline Holland.