Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Tom Holt - In Your Dreams

I was originally attracted to the Tom Holt novel with the strange title Earth, Air, Fire and Custard. But one late night, browsing through the Borders bookshop on London’s Charing Cross Road, and succumbed to purchasing In Your Dreams (since the back cover blurb was more appealing).

I’ve read a couple of Pratchett novels over the years, but never quite got sucked into permanent residency in Discworld. Douglas Adams wrote fine fantasy fiction, but sadly died leaving the Dirk Gently canon a little short at only two books.

The tenet of science fiction is that the author generally takes on all of the world’s (Earth’s) rules and behaviours, and alters just one or two characteristics to make a distinct environment as a background to the plot. On the other hand, fantasy fiction writers like Tom Holt get away with taking greater liberties, tossing out anything without too much recourse to logic or reason. (Just discovered that Wikipedia calls it mythopoeic fiction - no pleasing some.)

Set in Central London, we follow Paul Carpenter, the lead character. He works for J. W. Wells & Co (though the back cover mistakenly refers to H. W. Wells & Co.) Paul’s VW Polo is called Monika and speaks German. His girlfriend Sophie unexpectedly leaves him, taking a job in the Hollywood office, and Paul’s life just to go downhill from there.

There are occasional reference to the back story involving Paul and Sophie that’s obviously been played out in previous book, but not knowing didn’t spoil my enjoyment. (Whereas reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or Hitchhikers Guide series, our of sequence would be less than pleasurable.)

As part of his trainee rotation, Paul starts his stint in the Pest Control department, training to be a hero. Duties include learning to slay dragons, and doing a lot of (unexplained) banking. His boss Benny Shumway is a small man, with an eye for detail, who does the banking efficiently - though if I dealt with Mr Dao, Chief Cashier at the Bank of the Dead, I’d be careful too.

His first challenge was “to dispense of a small but moderately vicious wyvern that was nesting in a Cashpoint machine at the Piccadilly Circus end of Oxford Street”. He botches the job, but with help from a friend, ends up with the souvenir of a wyvern’s third eye - a red gemstone which “shows you stuff you can’t normally see”.

A couple of hundred pages later, with many twists and turns, the ending turns out fairly complicated, and quite heroic.

While it took me nearly 30 pages before I got hooked and wanted to keep turning pages until I finished it, overall I’d say it’s a good read and I’m keen to read more Holt, perhaps going back into this series - The Portable Door > In Your Dreams > Earth, Air, Fire and Custard > You Don’t have to Be Evil to Work Here, But It Helps.

Not too stimulating for your brain at the end of a long hot day, but with great descriptions that’ll make you smile or maybe even chuckle out loud.. And at the end, you can feel smug that your life isn’t as mixed up as Paul’s!

2 comments:

John Self said...

Interesting. Sounds pretty much as I remember him. I can understand someone - like you - wanting to read one of his books, or even a sequence of three or four. But who are the readers who keep the likes of Holt, Pratchett and Rankin in pen nibs? The Discworld (er, TM) series now runs to thirty or so volumes. I wouldn't want to do something I liked thirty times.

Ah. Unless the people who are buying all their books are teenagers, as - did I forget to mention? - I used to do when I was in my younger and more vulnerable years. I read the first dozen Discworld novels, mostly in hardback despite my being a poor scholar/student, up until Lords and Ladies in, I think, 1992, when I realised he was writing more or less the same book over and over again. So it turns out I'm to blame for his success, then. I hate it when that happens.

Alan in Belfast said...

Authors like Pratchett and Holt probably live on advances from publishers who sign them up for 3 or 4 book deals. It gives the authors the security of an income over a fixed period, and the gives the publisher the security of book sales (and an author they don't have to invent and over publicise).

Who read the books?

Well there are the hard core Pratchett fans. Those who buy them at airports and beaches. And the science fiction/fantasy guys who like it no matter what.