The fantasy genre, particularly quest fantasy, can be a very cliched place. Do we need another young hero setting out to make something of himself? Robert Evert attempts to subvert that particular trope by giving us a hero who is while well meaning, also middle aged, fat, cowardly, self-absorbed and self-deluded. It’s certainly a different approach.
There’s also a central theme to the book that legends aren’t real. That reality is dirtier and nastier than stories. So while our distinctly unheroically named Edmund sets out on a glorious quest complete with a lost treasure and an encounter with a troll, things take a very nasty turn. And the author doesn’t shy from that nastiness. Not at all.
The transition is almost too abrupt actually and that’s one of a few tonal issues that affect the book. Edmund is just too pathetic in the beginning and by about a third of the way through the book I was sick of his stuttering and his whining. Fortunately he grows a backbone somewhere around halfway through. Unfortunately he remains perpetually unable to accept that the legends and stories he loves aren’t true and we’re hit over the head with the “message” that legends aren’t real again, and again until the end of the story. That aspect really needed to be toned down later in the book.
There’s another tonal thing that bugged me all the way through the book. It features a pair of goblins who’s behavior just doesn’t quite fit any of the other established goblins and it provides no context to explain this. The two talk in a fashion that’s reminiscent to me of Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. And while that does make for an effective villainous pairing, it’s just at odds with the crudity of every other goblin we are exposed to in the book. I get the feeling it’s been done because the author liked the characters, not because it made sense in the story.
The frustrating thing here is that at it’s core there’s a good amount to like in the story and once Edmund finally starting doing things instead of blubbering I really started to get into it. But these tone problems kept dragging me back out of it.
There’s a second book in the series apparently and I’m not sure if I’d read that. It may work better now that the author has a bit more practice with the characters and world, but I’m not sure I want to take the chance that it will be as uneven as this one.
In the end I think I would probably give it 5/10 and wish it had gone through one more re-draft.