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WiHM7 review #3: The Road by Amanda J. Spedding

I thought I was getting off lightly this week.

When The Road To Golgotha, Cohesion Comics’ first double A-side release, turned up on my doorstep I figured it would be a breeze. There’s less to read. There’s pictures. Easy.

Nope.

Amanda J. Spedding’s tale The Road is simple only deceptively. On the surface, it tells of a woman’s descent from the earthly realm to the dark centre of the Underworld, to a union with the devil himself. Beneath that, however, is a quest for identity, an inverted hero’s journey, in which the protagonist must endure ritual trials, overcoming demonic manifestations of her deepest fears in order to reach her full, most frightening potential.

Riley’s story begins at the train station of a reimagined Erebus, gateway to the modern Underworld. She is in search of magic, real magic, like the kind she used to read about as a kid. She is fleeing her mother, her country upbringing (the mythological significance of both becoming apparent at the story’s climax), and is prepared to endure anything to find that hidden power, to claim it for herself.

The true beginning of her story is lost, both for the reader and for Riley, left behind in that other world on the surface. We are left to imagine what kind of rite or initiation would be required for passage on the Midnight Train—although, given the destination, we can assume it to have been somewhat final. But there is to be no nostalgia, no looking back.

At Erebus she is challenged by a series of increasingly otherworldly beings (who may or may not be manifestations of Charon, Cerberus, Lethe and others), whose relation to the recognisable, modern world becomes more and more tenuous as Riley descends. With each encounter, Riley’s responses become more proactive, more violent, as she is transformed from cautious neophyte to bloodthirsty antihero.

By the end of her journey, she has shed not only all of her clothes, but all of her worldly inhibitions. Killing becomes for her an art, in which she sees the beauty of dismembered limbs, the poetry of jutting bone, the wonder of gushing blood. It is through unrestrained violence that Riley gains agency, is finally liberated. In choosing a new, magical name, Riley is reunited with her uncle–husband, the god of the Underworld, becoming her own forgotten god-self.

Like Spedding’s award-winning Shovel-Man Joe, or the more recent The Whims of My Enemy, The Road is a story of transformation, a journey from the strictures imposed by personal history and society to the liberation of the deepest, darkest potential of the self.

In Shovel-Man Joe, it is Carmody’s status as fallen woman that singles her out for the scorn of her fellow passengers, yet also marks her for survival, making possible her decisive final gambit. The Whims of My Enemy tells of a different kind of fall, as Jael struggles to hold in check her inner beast, to survive a journey on the brutal Death Train without committing murder. The Road, by comparison, is a Crowleyan initiation rite, in which the debasement of conventional morality is a worthy aim and a vital step on the path to the Will (to appropriate Crowley’s own terminology) and the highest level of magical attainment: the realisation of our own dark divinity.

These are stories of women making choices that readers of a more conventional, conservative bent may baulk at, choices that empower through sexuality, through violence and dark magic. They are tough stories, with tough characters who punch and smash and gouge their way through living nightmares without flinching, without turning away. They are emotionally and morally complex stories, sleight-of-hand stories that distract us with vivid depictions of brutality and gore, while nurturing seeds of true horror in the dark hearts and opaque decisions of the protagonists.

You can connect with AJ at her website or on Twitter @AJSpedding. Even better, you can buy The Road to Golgotha (which includes His Own Personal Golgotha by G. N. Braun and artwork by Monty Borror) from Cohesion Press.

 

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