Monday, February 13, 2012

Vermillion's #CBR4 Review #01: Heroics For Beginners by John Moore

Note: I originally read this book for CBR3, and was intending on making a video review, but never got around to it. In order to keep myself honest, I am re-reading all the books I did last year. Honest and a bit lazy and cheap. This is the original text for my review, edited to remove the script format I had it in. Enjoy.

Hello, fellow readers. I'm Vermillion, and if you are anything like me, you enjoy a good fantasy story every once in a while. Dragons, knights, princesses, heroic deeds, evil overlords, the whole works. And, if you're anything like me, you love deconstructionist parodies of said works, where the secret entrance to the evil lair has an admission price and prophetic old crones are only as good as their stock portfolio. You enjoy that kind fo stuff right?

If you said no, you suck. and you go away, but until after the video finishes and you comment. But if you said yes, have I got the book for you: Heroics for Beginners, by John Moore.

John Moore is a long-established fantasy author, having first been published in 1986. A resident of Houston, Texas, he was a classmate of comedian Bill Hicks at the University of Houston, with Hicks inspiring Moore's use of comedy in his fantasy work. Now with six novels (one a free ebook), several short stories, and a few nonfiction works under his belt, Moore has managed to get his name mentioned in the same breath as Terry Pratchett and Robert Asprin. And I totally did not crib this from Wikipedia. Nope, no sirree.

This is my first time reading his stuff, after having stumbled upon in an ad I read somewhere. I found the book itself in a thrift store a couple of years ago, and finally got around to reading it earlier this year.

Heroics for Beginners follows the story of Prince Kevin Timberline of Rassendas, a young and not particularly strapping member of royalty seeking the hand of the quite available and quite well proportioned princess of the neighboring (and strategically important) country of Deserae, Princess Rebecca. During this time, Kevin learns of a grave threat to the land: the evil Lord Voltmeter has gotten his hands on Deserae's most prized possession, the Ancient Artifact Mark Seven. Kevin volunteers to go and recover the artifact, seeing this as the perfect way to get the clout needed to impress the king. Of course, this is easier said than done, as Kevin has to compete with Lord Logan (the much more aggressive suitor competing for Rebecca's hand) and his own ineptitude when it comes to being a hero. Luckily he find a book, The Handbook of Practical Heroics, in the local library to teach him the basics and get him started. Of course, not everything goes to plan, and Rebecca has her own ideas about how this will end.

So now that we have done the summary, now we get to the review. Warning, some slight spoilers, but nothing past the middle of the book, and nothing that really ruins the story. With that said...

First off, the good stuff. This book is HI-LARIOUS. From Kevin's near-dismissal of a old crone making prophesies (don't ever ask them to be more specific. They will, and it pretty much kills the mood. Instead, Ask for stock tips!), to the banter between him and Rebecca (such as their discussing her desire to become his sidekick, a position that he points out would mean she will certainly die) to Voltmeter and his hammy antics (MILKING THE COW!) and other gags (you cannot leave without going through the gift shop. Fiendish!), this book peppers you with enough jokes that at least some of them will hit home.

But while it is quite funny, it's greatest strength lies in the moments where it plays the plot straight. Much like, say, The Princess Bride, there is an actual story underneath the gags, and the secret weapon Voltmeter develops is quite frightening. The final confrontation with Voltmeter is truly dramatic and tension filled, with some well-written fight scenes and a neat firing of a Chekov's gun. While some of the resolution is predictable, it is only so due to its nature as a fantasy story parody, and still managed to cleverly subvert some expectations to the end.

Now there are some, well, I wouldn't say weak, but maybe, underdeveloped spots. The book, being a farce as it is, isn't very deep and may be a bit too short for some folks. I have seen some complaints in other reviews that the characters are too shallow, but I found that to be a bit nitpicky. I for one thought the characters were fairly well-established as a bit more than standard fantasy archetypes and Moore managed to show some wonderfully believable chemistry between Kevin and Rebecca. Of course, he used a bit of a cheat with them, but with the clever writing, you could buy it without complaint.

Since this is a fantasy comedy, and I did review Unseen Academicals last time, I suppose I should compare the two. But it is kinda unfair to compare him to Terry Pratchett. While both like to poke fun at and subvert quite a number of fantasy tropes, they go about it in different ways. Pratchett is more of a satirist, using the Discworld setting to not only demonstrate the silliness in your typical fantasy world, but in our modern one as well. Moore seems to come from a more farcical standpoint, not really coming with a message or anything, and just content in making you laugh, even when taking a moment to play it straight towards the end.

Now, since I made a similar comment in my written Prometheus Deception review, I can't walk away without giving a little thought to a possible film adaptation. Quite honestly, I would like to see a movie version of this book. It is quick, irreverent, and since all of the plot and humor are not dependent on the literary medium (another thing different from Pratchett), very little would have to be lost in translation. Of course, this is with some trepidation. It is almost too easy for some hack to get their hands on it and try to unnecessarily "update" it.

As I understand it from my research, Moore has managed to improve on the weaknesses mentioned here in his later books. I am certainly quite eager to find out, because if this is his rookie work, I gotta see what he does with some time under his belt.

So to wrap up, go read Heroics for Beginners. You will definitely get more than a chuckle, and you make find a guffaw or two. It won't take much out of your day, and could be a good way to unwind after ready something heavy and soul shaking, like many of my other reviewers have (show pics of books, then one of a silly choice). And if you like this, try out some more of his work and let me know how they are. And if you liked this review, please comment. Otherwise I am going to feel all sad again.

You don't want me to be sad, do you? Well, that's it for my third book review for Cannonball Read 3. Next time, I go over to the other side. To the sci-fi side. But will I find myself going the DARK SIDE???!?!?!

No. But I will be reviewing a Star Wars novel. Bye!

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