Thursday, 25 April 2013

Review: Off to Be the Wizard

Off to Be the Wizard
Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fun book, light but not without some substance.

As you'd hope from someone who writes a humourous webcomic, it's genuinely funny, and that's mainly down to the dialogue. They're not just one-liners, though. It's the interactions between characters that are funny, so the jokes tend to run over a couple of dialogue turns. There's also a bit of absurdity here and there.

I thought the author could have made more play of the fact that one character is from the 1980s and doesn't get the Simpsons references that everyone else makes. It's a joke that's used, really, only once, though at a later point he does get a pop-culture reference when the protagonist quotes Ghostbusters. The Rule of Three is that something you use three times is funnier.

The editing has its rough spots. There are missing words in sentences, and the odd misused word turns up. I'm fairly sure a bolt of cloth is rolled up, and so hanging it from the wall won't give the effect that the author was probably after. We get "prophesy" instead of "prophecy", "capitol" instead of "capital", "staid" instead of "stayed", "anti-chamber" and "Buenos Aries". There are a number of instances of missing opening quotation marks in the dialogue. I've seen much worse, but it does need another good go-over by a proofreader.

With the humour bonus, four stars for language.

The characters are not that deep, mostly being one instantly-recognizable caricature or another. I did like the fact that most of them have a basic and unquestioned sense of decency, and the villain is villainous in a realistic way, not an over-the-top, puppy-kicking moustache twirler. The protagonist progresses from a somewhat selfish bumbler to something approximating a hero. All in all, four stars (perhaps a touch below four, but I'll round up).

The plot falls into several parts. In the early part of the book, the protagonist bumbles around, gets himself into trouble, and has to somehow get out of it, which makes for fast-moving hijinks. Then there's a longish stretch where he learns about what he can now do, kind of an extended training montage, and about halfway through the book we get the main challenge. The rest of the book involves dealing with that challenge. It's a slightly unusual way to structure a plot, but I think, overall, it works. Three and a half, maybe four stars. Even the training montage bit is interesting enough that I didn't grow bored with it, despite the whiff of idiot lecture.

Setting I wasn't so happy with. The basic premise is that the protagonist, along with a number of other people over the years, has discovered that the world is a computer simulation by hacking into the file that describes everyone, including him. This means that he effectively gains magic powers. Based on a superficial search for a good time to live in, he heads back to medieval England.

The thing is, medieval England is very much a Ren-Faire version, not even slightly authentic. Even people's names are mostly Irish and Scottish rather than English. There's a handwavey attempt to account for the lack of authenticity, but it's really not convincing, and leaves me with the conclusion that the author didn't really care about actual medieval England or want to do any research; he just wanted to use the idea of medieval England. There may be a debt to the Connecticut Yankee, as well.

Only three stars for setting, and I'm being a bit generous, because it's tissue-paper thin and torn in a number of places. Overall, though, a four-star book, which had me laughing out loud a number of times.

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