Geek Fantasy Novel: A gently satirical take on fantasy

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsYA fantasy book reviews E. Archer Geek Fantasy NovelGeek Fantasy Novel by E. Archer

Geek Fantasy Novel is aptly named: it is both a fantasy novel about a geek and a fantasy novel for geeks. In this humorous novel, E. Archer satirizes a variety of fantasy and fandom clichés but without losing sight of two important things.

1. The novel should still tell an engaging story, above and beyond the comic elements. That is, if there’s nothing to the book but jokes, it’ll wear thin pretty quickly. Archer avoids this trap. Geek Fantasy Novel is engaging throughout, whether it’s being funny or serious at any given moment.

2. The audience that will be most interested in a skewering of fantasy tropes is fantasy fans. Have you ever read one of those books that seems to be making fun of, not just fantasy tropes, but the readers themselves for liking the stuff? This is not one of those. The joke is never on us; indeed one might have to be a geek to get all the jokes. Archer is laughing with us.

The surface plot concerns a geeky young boy, Ralph, who has been forbidden by his painfully boring parents to ever make a wish. The reasons for this are kept from him, but it’s treated with the utmost importance. When he brings cupcakes to his class for his birthday, he has to sit in the hall while his classmates eat them (and take advantage of his absence to mock the D&D character sheet they find in his belongings). Then, at fourteen, he is invited to visit his aristocratic aunt and uncle in England and help them set up their Internet connection. His parents forbid him to go, but:

By the time Steve thumped up to his son’s room to remind him that he was by no means allowed to go to England, Ralph had already boarded a flight and turned his cell phone off.

He meets his cousins — pompous Cecil, emo Beatrice, and princessy Daphne — and soon learns he has another aunt: Chessie, the scandalous Duchess of Cheshire. Clearly a spoof of Sarah Ferguson, Chessie is a voluptuous redhead whose adultery graced the tabloids and who now hawks exercise equipment on late-night TV. But Chessie’s real secret is even flashier: she’s a fairy godmother of sorts, and has the magical power to grant wishes. The central plot of the book follows Ralph as he is drawn into the wishes of each of his cousins in turn. Each wish drops the characters into a twisted fairy tale, and we soon learn that the narrator is a meddling one…

The story is both funny and suspenseful, and seems to poke gentle fun at a variety of fantasy novels without commenting on any one too specifically. It’s more that a Choose Your Own Adventure section may appear without warning, and sometimes a crazy plan will work precisely because it’s crazy and because it’s the right time in the story for something to finally work.

My biggest complaint is that much of Beatrice’s tale needs more clarification. The confusion begins with the family tree in the front of the book, which seems to suggest that Beatrice’s birth mother — Ralph’s uncle Gideon’s ex — is actually another sister of Ralph’s mother and aunts. As far as I can tell, that’s not actually the case, and it’s just an awkwardly drawn family tree. Then we learn that Beatrice has an older sister, Annabel, who is implied to also be the child of Uncle Gideon… but then, when Beatrice’s mother “couldn’t stomach the idea of raising kids when she was in her early twenties,” why did she keep Annabel but leave Beatrice with Gideon, if they were both Gideon’s daughters? And if Annabel wasn’t Gideon’s daughter, why did Gideon continue the alphabetical naming scheme when he had kids with his second wife? [highlight text if you want to read the spoiler here:] And just how dead is Beatrice at book’s end? The narrator says Beatrice is his favorite character, and she’s mine too, so it’s frustrating that so much of her story is confusing.

Geek Fantasy Novel take a turn for the even-more-meta at the end, though there is one really big hint that Ralph may be getting what he most desires. I do wish there had been a bit more “real-world” wrap-up after the climax, so we could see which changes were irrevocable and which only happened in the fairy-tale worlds, but overall I found the book enjoyable. If you like a dry sense of humor and a gently satirical take on fantasy, you may also enjoy this unique YA novel.

Geek Fantasy Novel — (2011) Publisher: What happens when a science geek and magic collide? Be careful what you wish for. Really. Because wishes are bad. Very bad. They can get you trapped in fantasy worlds full of killer bunny rabbits, evil aunts, and bothersome bacteria, for example. Or at least that’s Ralph’s experience. He’s been asked to spend the summer with his strange British relatives at their old manor house in order to set up their Wi-Fi network. But there’s much more to it than that, of course. It’s just that nobody told Ralph. He’s a gamer, sure. But this game is much stranger — and funnier — than anything to be found on his xbox. He is a geek. This is his story.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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