The Short Version: Delirium of The Endless decides to seek out her lost brother, Destruction. After Desire and Despair turn her down, she seeks out the help of her older brother Dream – and they embark on a strange journey through the world and through themselves in order to find their missing sibling.
The Review: There’s a panel near the end of this novel that took my breath away, much as the real-life equivalent tends to do the same. On an island somewhere in the Mediterranean, the three Endless siblings walk out into the night and are swallowed in a sea of stars. The panel stretches over both pages – the only time in the entire series I can recall such a thing. It is possibly the most beautiful moment of any comic I’ve ever read.
The plot of this novel is one of my favorite plots – it’s a quest plot but it isn’t about where they’re going, it’s about the road it takes in getting there. Delirium and Dream go off on this weird and hilarious and dangerous journey and there’s a sense of it being Gaiman’s attempt to write a road novel. But it is also, of course, so much more than that. I’m an older brother and so I immediately found myself associating with Dream, dragged along by his little sister – who gets up to various little sister-y shenanigans. It’s just that, you know, these are The Endless, so there’s a whole lot more going on. Another terribly overwhelming moment, emotionally, comes when Delirium straightens out her act for a moment – painfully becoming a rational creature for a brief spell. The colors of her text bubbles go solid, instead of radiating different tones. Her appearance is more refined (relatively speaking) and when she tells Dream that only one of them can crack up at once and that it hurts her to be so, well, anti-herself… that’s love. That’s the sort of love that can only come from family – and it just knocked me out.
I’m feeling like there’s some bad shit on the horizon, though. This novel was darker than the previous ones – and they seem to be getting progressively darker, like the seasons of Battlestar Galactica. An encounter with Destiny gives us a few hints into both the past and future of The Endless, including what looks like it won’t be such a nice event for Morpheus involving The Corinthian… and it feels wrong, somehow, that Destruction should be able to just leave. He makes a strong and interesting point, that The Endless perhaps aren’t and that they, too, will all pass just as anything else in the universe.
And then the philosophy really gets going, when he recounts something Death told him once, many moons ago: “We all not only could know everything – we do. We just tell ourselves we don’t to make it all bearable.” What an incredibly intense thought, no? But doesn’t that sort of seem like a moral of the series thus far? Characters know things – and they learn further things as we follow their “brief lives” but it almost always causes them more strife, the more that they know. Delirium is saddened by her brother’s reluctance to come back to them – even moreso once she realizes why he won’t come back. Dream is so changed by the events of this novel that his own staff barely recognizes him when he gets back to his castle. And these are supposed to be The Endless! Those who will outlast even the gods! The human beings who appear – several of whom die in awful ways – are even more undone by knowledge. But when I get too far down this line of thought, I realize that there’s a mirror there waiting and behind it would undoubtedly be Despair and, while we no longer have Delight in this world (and let me not even get started on what THAT seems to say…), it is not a world where we should let Despair get to us.
Rating: 5 out of 5. Another excellent novelistic entry in the series, this one seeming to prepare us for what’s to come – the background is pretty much set at this point and we’re now familiar with the players, so now it’s seeing what’s going to happen. Because it feels like something is coming. The next volume is called Worlds’ End (don’t think I haven’t noted the punctuation…) and I am genuinely nervous to see what comes next. But also, I must know – because the thoughts inspired by the accumulated seven-volumes-so-far feel unfinished and so I must know what comes next. There must be some sense of release, for these thoughts are too important to be left unresolved – and therein, of course, lies the magic of Mr. Gaiman in a nutshell.