by Laura E. Goodin, Odyssey Books, 2016
A Review by Kyla Lee Ward
"All those writers who had churned out book after book, breathless adventure after breathless adventure, jungles, deserts, idols, treasures, long-lost relatives--they'd been cheats and frauds and cowards, unable or simply afraid to imagine what it would actually be like to live through something like this.
"He realised who would be next, and began to tremble."
The gap between the fictional and the real holds endless possibility. Crossing it is fraught with peril, but never more so as when you're on the trail of an evil artefact that creates heroes--yes, an evil artefact. Because, as Goodin's first novel makes clear, those square-jawed fellows who box their way through the works of Mundy and Haggard are the last thing the world needs, especially in multiples.
Hoyle Marchand is an insurance claims assessor and vintage book hound, content to live vicariously through his favourite authors. When this insulation is ripped away (in a sequence meriting a trigger warning for bibliophiles), he takes the obvious course: travel halfway round the world with a strange woman to discover if the clues in one such volume point to something real. Although their progress bears an uneasy resemblance to the beats of an adventure novel (joining forces with the plucky urchin, capture by the tribe of savages), the constant intrusion of niggling, practical details, exhaustion and embarrassment leaves him feeling ever more inadequate… and thus vulnerable to the temptation of always being strong, always being confident, never having to take advice, feel remorse, rest, eat, sleep...
This kind of thing has been done before, of course. Joel Rosenberg's The Sleeping Dragon drops a group of RPG players into the fantasy realm they've been harrowing, and Austen's Northanger Abbey provides a withering satire of the gothic. But After The Bloodwood Staff is distinguished not only by its take on a foundation genre, but by the craft with which it conveys its central premise. A delight to read, with crisp, clear prose and a wry sense of humour, it posits that empathy and trust, as well as being among humanity's greatest terrors, are our only salvation..
To read the full review, please go here.