Few books have fulfilled the promise of their title as quickly as Kill the Farm Boy, which sees its erstwhile corn-pone protagonist squashed to death on page 31. With the body of Worstley, a farm boy turned, supposedly, Chosen One, still warm at the foot of an enchanted tower, a zany assemblage of characters takes shape to fulfill his destiny, and it quickly becomes apparent that theirs will be a fantasy quest like no other.
Hardcover $24.30 | $27.00
The fantasy spoof is a time-honored tradition, make no myth-take. The best of them rely on a fluency in the genre, and are crafted by authors who understand the ins and outs of every trope. Kill the Farm Boy boasts two such creative minds: Delilah S. Dawson, whose breadth of work has crisscrossed (imaginatively) all forms of science fiction and fantasy; and Kevin Hearne, who, in the Iron Druid Chronicles, has dabbled with mythologies every which way but loose, and whose fantasy epic A Plague of Giants is a daring experiment in form.
The result of their collaboration is a series starter that mixes the sensibilities of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld with even more irreverence (if that sounds impossible, just wait till you meet the elves of Morningwood). And that’s to say little of the puns—oh, the puns! Kill the Farm Boy leaves no stone unturned when it comes to skewering clichés, but it proceeds along well-trodden ground with an approach that feels entirely fresh and modern.
That breath of fresh air comes from the oddballs who come to fill the white, male, Chosen One-sized hole the titular farm boy vacates. Take Fia, the outsized warrior in a chainmail bikini whose tumble from the tower ended Worstley’s own quest. When disaster struck, Fia was already on a quest of her own, aiming to find a rare magical flower at the top of the enchanted sleeping tower—not for money or fame or glory, but to tame its wild and violent instincts.
Then you have Argabella, a bard cursed not with sleep, like those around her in the tower, but with the appearance of a giant rabbit. The ensuing moon-eyed romance between Argabella and Fia is one of the book’s fleeting sequences of genuine sincerity (no, really), helping root the rest of its madcap action.
Fia and Argabella’s shared quest becomes twofold: lift the enchantment on Argabella and the tower, while also finding a way to revive poor manslaughtered Worstley. Joining them are a motley crew: Lord Toby, the Dark Lord with a cheese fetish; Poltro, the bumbling female assassin Lord Toby had dispatched to actually kill Worstley; and Grinda the Sand Witch, the source of Argabella’s curse.
Paperback $9.47 | $9.99
The real star of the show is Gustave, a talking billy goat whose one-liners and chaotic head in a crisis serve as the narrative’s voice, providing a running commentary on all that’s going wrong.
And there’s plenty going wrong. You’ve got the usual obstacles to any quest—trolls and crypts and sorcery. But in Kill the Farm Boy, these obstacles are Michelin-starred trolls, crypts that confront you with your childhood fears, and misfiring sorcery (Lord Toby’s) that can do little more than rain loaves of bread.
The novel relishes in its nonstop humor, throwing puns faster than Toby can summon a monsoon of croissants. It’s an enjoyable ride, but the biggest joke of all is just how quickly that prophesied white male hero bites the dust. In other genre entries, the characters that take over this story would have been sidekicks or villains or victims. That it’s their turn for questing—their time to play the hero—is the novel’s true delight.