Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Of Quills and Kings

by Joel Reeves


Walpole of Yurle is not your average villain. Harbouring ambitions of world domination, the terror of the swampy kingdom of Everbright is a hedgehog. A demon hedgehog with powers of mind manipulation, in fact.

Walpole is after St Cuthbert's Orb, a magical object that bestows immortality on anyone who owns it. It was stolen from seven careless and selfish gods by a giant, Jenundire, who Walpole then managed to trick out of it. Now Walpole himself has lost the mercurial Orb, which he believes is somewhere underneath Baron Glauwer's castle.

The castle is in a state of disrepair, which is soon made worse when the rat-faced mage Gamitof Pym casts a spell on it, accidentally scrambling all the rooms. The baron has absconded with his mistress and jester, Emenine, and most of the troops. So it's up to his son, Jonathan, to organise the castle's defences and rally what's left of the staff against attack. Lots of people want the Orb, and they're coming to the castle to find it. Faced with a hungry giant, rebellious peasants, various soldiers and a well-organised eunuch horde, the teenage Jonathan has little choice but to deal with them all.

Of Quills and Kings seems quite random to begin with, its ridiculous tone heightened by Joel Reeves' love of long and absurd names. This novel is a tongue in cheek romp, reminiscent of James Bibby's Ronan the Barbarian series. However, no matter how haphazard the narrative appears to be there is a method to it, and the author does manage to fit it all together into a complicated yet coherent plot.

About half-way through Jonathan and his friends leave on a quest to find the Orb and rescue the young king, who has disappeared. At this point the story moves in a different direction, taking on a more serious and dramatic mood. That's not to say it loses its humour, though. There's always room for unions between woman and fish, or rumours of flesh-eating zombies, for instance. The bickering between the Baroness and Emenine is hilariously catty, and there's a gleeful nastiness to the events that leaves you wondering how much further the author will go.

Perhaps it's a side-effect of this vicious narrative, but there is always a lot going on and a large cast of characters involved. Many of these don't appear until the second half of the book, and it can get confusing because parts of the story are frankly overcrowded. Nonetheless Of Quills and Kings steadily improves, and it's well worth persevering with even though the bizarre characters and situations may make for a faintly dubious beginning. In spite of its erinaceous villain, this is no cute fairy-tale. Instead it's a rollicking fantasy that tumbles cheekily along, pausing only to give us the literary equivalent of a wedgie when we least expect it. Joel Reeves' début novel is often surprising, frequently wicked, and a lot of fun.

Book Details

Year: 2008

Categories: Books

  Male Protagonist  

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson