Genre: Fantasy/Adventure/??? | Format: Kindle (ARC) | Publisher: Ragnarok Publications | Publication date: 16th June 2014 | My rating: 4/5
Marty is having a bad morning. Roused from slumber by a gang of polo mallet-wielding monkeys and a mysterious voice in his wardrobe, he must quickly come to terms with the fact that the world outside his door is now the world inside his head. Lying in wait amidst bleak, gloomy streets, deserted theme parks, and circus-themed nightclubs, lurks the oppressive shadow of a myriad of giggling, cackling pursuers, hell bent on throwing a custard pie or two into the works.
Assisted by a string of half-cocked schemes, a troupe of tiny unlikely allies, and (literally) the girl of his dreams, Marty sets out on a heroic quest to wake up and get out of bed.
When I first got the PR email telling me about this book and asking if I wanted a copy to review, I recall saying that it sounded “too entertaining to say no to”. Happily, I was right!
Admittedly, surreal humour doesn’t always hit the mark with me. I absolutely adore Terry Pratchett’s Discworld opus, but I was much less taken with Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – both of which this author’s writing has been compared to. In fairness, I think it’s a tricky thing to hit the right notes with. You can never know what will tickle someone’s funny bone, or be sufficiently creepy when need be. James Walley does both, for me, and does it very well.
Clowns in pogo-stick cars, people. You have been warned.
But please don’t let that put you off. This story has plenty to shudder about, but it also has a great adventure story to tell. The whole waking-dream approach naturally gives the author free rein to go nuts, and he also does this well. Who doesn’t love talking toy pirates, right? His gift for writing comedy is also a credit to him. As it turns out, it is kind of difficult to be terrified of evil clowns when they’re bouncing around on a bouncy castle and being fought, cannonball-style, by one of the aforementioned toy pirates.
And part of me now dearly wishes that bouncy castle kung-fu was more of a thing.
As for the adventure part, again Walley hits all the right notes – and comes up with some wonderfully ridiculous modes of transportation while he’s at it. Case in point: the Flying Fathom. It’s a pirate ship… Carried through the air by a giant mechanical parrot. Because dream. Because why not?
Setting all of the surreal aside for a moment, I’ve got to say that my favourite part of all this is probably the most normal aspect (and that is by no means a failure on the author’s part!) – the sense of camaraderie between Marty, our protagonist, and the toy pirate crew who help him on his quest. Their pirate captain, Timbers, is Marty’s favourite childhood toy come to life; naturally, Marty rediscovers along the way why he treasured (no pun intended) this toy so much. And Timbers himself is a fantastic character. The tiny toy knows no fear, launching himself into the adventure and (literally) straight at clown faces with equal amounts of pirate abandon. Quite the role model, for a toy…
Here is where it’s got shades of Toy Story, for me. The friendship between a man and his favourite toy is undeniably sweet, but this is a story about daring adventures, and it’s the daring adventure that takes precedence. The lessons Marty begins to learn about self-confidence and Seizing Life In Both Hands never derails this, but instead works nicely hand in hand with it. It adds welcome depth to a story that, without it, might well have fallen a little flat.
This book makes an excellent debut effort. It may not have struck me as quite so laugh-out-loud funny as Pratchett’s work, but it’s definitely on the same scale – and that is nothing at all to sneeze at! It has most certainly put James Walley on my Authors To Watch list. If there are, as he divulged in yesterday’s interview, more of these stories to come, then I will definitely be going along for the bizarre ride.