by Pierce Anthony
Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Hapless, a man who’s Talent is to conjure any instrument and make others play them perfectly but cannot play them himself, is minding his own business when he is visited by the Magician Humfrey and invited to go on a Quest. Deciding that he has nothing to lose and a lot to gain he goes to the castle and starts the Quest. Along the way he meets several seemingly (ahem) hapless characters who help. Their job: capture the five elemental Totems and confront the demoness Isis over the Orb she controls. He can then use the Orb to gain what he wants most.
The same puns I remember from my childhood and young adult years are on full display. The exact same ones. Twenty five years later. Some changes are clear though. There are non-stop references to nudity, sex, and [SPOILERS] a goal of losing his virginity to one of the two good girlfriends and one bad girlfriend Hapless will find along the way. [END SPOILERS]. The Adult Conspiracy was introduced in Crewel Lye (1984), which is the 8th book. I only read through the 19th book, where sex wasn’t the sole focus of the books, when I was last in the world of Xanth so maybe this is the norm now. It seemed like the whole point of this story was for the females to show (and allow touching of) their breasts and naked bodies to Hapless and ultimately to fulfil his sexual desires. The Quest is derivative and boring. The whole story seemed (ahem, now it’s my turn) hapless.
Anthony has published at least one Xanth book a year since 1986, mostly every year prior back to 1977, and two books in 1993 and 2013 – and even another scheduled this year! I have very fond memories of the books I read in High School and college, but after the long gap in my reading of the Xanth novels, from 1995’s Roc and a Hard Place to this book, I’m surprised by the quality of the story. I’m left wondering if 1) the books were never very good and I just didn’t know better, 2) Anthony is getting more derivative in his work product as time goes on or 3) the gap may have given me some perspective, like seeing someone for the first time in 21 years and noticing differences that someone who was there the whole time slowly grew accustomed to. Whatever the case, this book is simply not very good.
It didn’t help my enjoyment of the book to read the Afterward first. Anthony actually tells the story of how a young girl sent him almost the whole plot of this book asking him to write it for her. It mirrors so closely what he says she sent that it seems like she should have been credited as co-author! He also mentions, and I remember this from earlier books, he lists all the puns that readers sent in to him. After finishing the book, unlike in my memories of previous stories, it seems like most of the fan puns are simply throw away jokes inserted where he can fit them in regardless of relevance to the story. This whole book is like fan fiction but with the actual author doing it for you.
(Interestingly, Anthony admits in his notes that the change to Open Road Media was prompted because his old publisher, not sure if he means Tor, Avon or Del Rey, didn’t like the fact that he using so much of his fan’s ideas in his novels.)
In the end, I’m moving on from Xanth. I have my memories. There are a lot of really great, funny authors out there. this book, unfortunately, is, in my opinion, at best a pastiche of Anthony’s own prior work.
Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.
This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.