Book Review: The Remortal by Ramsey Isler
Immortality is boring. This is one of the aspects of stories about immortality that I enjoy, but not many of the stories I’ve read deal with this. Or rather, they don’t focus on the desire of an immortal to move on. I was attracted to The Remortal specifically because this was the plot of the book. An immortal, Van Giles, is tired of his life on earth and wants to ascend to something greater in the unknown beyond. To do so, he needs a successor to kill him and take his place as an immortal. In a street teen named Telly Gonis, Van sees a good person in a bad situation and determines Telly to be the perfect choice.
There are other immortals in the book, each descending from a noble line, including the White Lotus Society, Julius Caesar and Spanish nobility. They are not entirely pleased with Van’s choice of successor. Nor are the pleased with Van’s choice to ascend in the first place. Or with Van in general, for that matter. There was potential for the story to focus too much on the concept of upper class versus lower class but, while the other immortals do have concerns, I really liked the way Isler let the others deal with Telly personally and come to their own conclusions beyond mere snobbery. I also liked the way Telly is torn over his loyalty to Van and all the choices that became wrapped up with the ascension process.
Van begins as a mostly likeable character with rational motivations, but once Telly agrees, Van’s “training” process reveals a cruelty that the other immortals already knew existed and fear will pass on into the afterlife. Van’s influence, along with the training and abilities Telly gains during the ascension process, change Telly from the innocent young man he was. Again, it would have been easy to turn this into a simple case of “Van is actually evil and Telly must free himself from that evil influence!” but I appreciate that Isler made things more complex than that.
Telly has to come to terms with his new self, his motivations, the choices given him by the other immortals, and Van. He also has to deal with the fate of his best friend, Mattie. Telly is presented as a reasonable character who does have a good heart and is able to show emotion without the story dwelling longer than necessary. There is one particular plot point with the Tree of Life that I’m not entirely certain was necessary to Telly’s progress, but otherwise, I enjoyed Telly’s journey and liked that I wasn’t entirely sure what Telly would choose to do in the end. I also didn’t expect the other immortals to make certain decisions in the end, though I suspected Telly’s friendship with Mattie and the circumstances of Mattie’s health would play a role.