The world divides into two kinds of SF/fantasy fans; those who leap over plotholes, and those who write long pitiless lists of all the Things That Don’t Make Sense. Tom Holt’s new comedy starts with fantasyland characters themselves starting to realise that their world’s rules are a bit silly. A red-hooded girl is getting tired of fighting off the wolves in granny’s clothing; a goblin king questions if his people’s age-old war with the dwarves is worth it; a knight wonders why there are so many dragons. Add a stupendously useless young prince, who seems to know nothing about magic and carries a mobile phone…
The Outsorcerer’s Apprentice is a slow starter. The early chapters meander from one character to another, and put us through what sometimes feels like very familiar comic-fantasy schtick - making fun of fairy tales is hardly new (there are also loads of Middle Earth jokes). But the story draws itself together well, and while there’s little effort to hide the secret of this illogical world, the scenario gets a thorough workout, with some pointed real-world satire and a moral seriousness you won’t find in Shrek . The ideas outshine the characters, but some individual sequences are gems, such as a sphinx as a customer service assistant from hell, and a chapter told from the POV of a dragon’s tooth who’s grown up into a strapping magic warrior.
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