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Posted October 28, 2010
Starts With A Sneeze
Imagine for a minute an alternative universe where Terry Pratchett and Monty Python could produce a love child. Now imagine that child had inherited both parents' skill at seeing a situation and sizing it up for satiric treatment but neither parents' talent for executing that satire. If you can hold that idea in your mind, you'll have a pretty good idea of how Tales From Gundarland reads. I have a crusty, old memory of an English teacher telling me to use writing to show, not tell. You probably have a similar one. Where Monty Python and Pratchett would show, Quense would tell.
Tales From Gundarland is a selection of two novellas and six short stories, most of them satires, set in a rather generic fantasy world of elves, dwarves, humans, and something called yuks (a modified ogre). The stories range from retellings of Shakespeare's greatest hits staring dwarfs and elves, to a Zorro/Lone Ranger (or Zarro and the Lone Stranger as they are known in Gundarland) crossover.
Bits of the stories are genuinely laugh out loud funny. There are moments where you see great insight into human nature. But on the whole the stories are competent and plain rather than exceptional reading. The use of language is solid but not brilliant. The occasional clunky line is offset by the occasional very well done image. The characters are likable but generic. Several of them are rather easily confused with each other because most of the main characters are somewhat young, unsure of themselves and their place in the world, adventurers looking to find their fortune and place.
Quense did come up with some unique details for setting his elves, dwarfs, and humans apart. His guild system requires adventurers to learn useful trades as well as how to bash in heads, so we run into a Warrior/Cooks looking to advance onto the Hero/Chef level. Likewise, the leader of his anti-pirate group is a caftan wearing dwarf looking to go legit by getting into women's bespoke fashion. Things like that are really cool, but we don't get much out of it because these things are mostly just mentioned as part of the background. Green leaves on the trees, babbling brook, Warrior/Cook armed with his trusty frying pan and razor sharp spatula ready to go off and save the princess. Tell me more about the guilds, tell me more about how he trained, write a novel about it, because there's a seed of a great story there, but... But it's just background.
Quense is good with voice. His characters speak differently from each other, which is a nice touch. The yuks speak in a sort of dumbed down mafiaesque English. The other main characters use different tone and vocabulary in a way that matches with their stations well. Unfortunately, voice is often the only easy way to distinguish one main character from the next.
Though I was kicked out of the feminist club a long, long time ago, I did notice his female characters, save one, are one dimensional, shallow, and annoying. Annoying in the sense of people you don't want to spend any time with, not badly written. Basically the reason there are women in this book is to be objects of love or lust. And, while I normally couldn't care less about the gender of the various characters I'm reading about, the fact that almost every woman in the entire book was a twit was grating.
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