Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Review: Erasmus Hobart and the Golden Arrow

Erasmus Hobart and the Golden Arrow
Erasmus Hobart and the Golden Arrow by Andrew Fish

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book comes out of Harper-Collins' Authonomy project, a means of crowdsourcing manuscripts in which users vote for their favourites and the winners get published. It's a kind of American Idol of books. It appears, in both cases, that the wisdom of crowds produces fairly bland, commercial light entertainment, though in this case it's lacking a bit of polish.

The Golden Arrow is entertaining. I found it amusing, though not to the point of actually laughing (I'm a tough audience). The hapless protagonist, the hostile squirrels, the classic comedy duo of the men in the pub, all worked for me. Unfortunately, the light comedic tone did also undermine any tension the author set out to create with the protagonist's separation from his time machine in medieval England. I was never in any doubt that everything would come out fine.

Time travel stories are hard to do well. For one thing, the past is a lot more foreign than most modern people realise, and often time travel stories (particularly comedic ones) deal with this by ignoring it. In this case, the people who should have been talking late Anglo-Saxon/early Middle English or Anglo-Norman French just speak modern English with a limited vocabulary, and there are no major issues with the protagonist understanding them or vice versa. I wouldn't place a lot of reliance on anything else about the history, either, but I don't think we're meant to (after all, it is about the Robin Hood legend).

The Grandfather Paradox (in the guise of a many-greats-grandmother paradox) is invoked in order to justify why Erasmus, the protagonist, doesn't sleep with medieval Maude, who has a crush on him for no actually justified reason apart from that he's the protagonist. However, it's presented in the form of "You might be influenced by your memory of me not to form a relationship with someone else, and the two of you might have otherwise been my ancestors." Erasmus doesn't seem to think about the fact that she could become pregnant and he could thus become his own ancestor, or, for that matter, that encouraging her, and others, into danger for his own ends could result in the death of someone who was destined to be his ancestor. When he does muck up the timeline, it's not through any of these major meddlings but just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There's a "Great Man" theory of history at work, a very old-fashioned take, which goes so far as to suppose that events as remote as the English Civil War and the suffrage movement wouldn't have happened at all had Robin Hood's legend been different. Historically speaking, this is bunk, and since it seems to be presented seriously it doesn't get the comedy pass.

There's an attempt at physical comedy in prose which doesn't work, about trying to get a longbow through a low doorway. If you imagine the scene, it's clear that just holding the thing horizontally would remove the whole problem (or if it wouldn't, that wasn't effectively conveyed).

Kudos, though, for the quiet feminism which a) assumes, without discussion, that Marion's band of women would be just as effective as Robin's band of men, if not more so, and b) also assumes that patriarchy would successfully suppress this fact and reduce Marion to the love interest, while forgetting her followers entirely.

Harper-Collins retains its unenviable title of "Major Publisher Most Likely to Publish a Badly-Edited Book" with this one; I marked almost 30 errors of grammar, usage or word choice, some of the more significant being "more knowledgeable than his years would usually belie", "seemed to comprise of" and a couple of number agreement errors along the lines of "all attempts at silence was discarded". Along with the only mildly amusing story balanced out by the poorly-thought-through premise, this results in only three stars from me.

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