This book hooked me early with its concept of imaginary tales coming real, and kept trying to shake me off along the way with uneven writing and a Campbellian journey of self-discovery. I hate those damned Campbellian journeys of self-discovery. Sounds great on paper, then what do you get in practice? Star bloody Wars, that's what.
I especially dislike stories where a sojourn in a fantastic realm gives the protagonist 'life lessons' that help normalise them back into their lives in the mundane realm. Travellers returned from other worlds should be like Gulliver, sadder and wiser in some ways, outright eccentric in others, their perceptions changed and deranged from the norm in ways that seem reasonable to them and demented to the mundies. Otherwise, why posit a fantastic realm at all? May as well take a stroll down the street and learn about life's ways, like Gauthama and his Three Great Sights.
But a lot of Connolly's fairy tale twists and retellings are rather cool. There are some very grim doings, just a little humour (not quite enough, and all concentrated in just a couple of chapters in the first half) and sometimes, Connolly forgets that he is writing this book in this awkward style that is part fairy tale, part juvenile fantasy and part thriller, and churns out passages of absorbing action or haunting darkness. There are also a lot of extremely predictable outcomes, but again Connolly surprised me with the bittersweet ending, almost totally redeeming many of the book's drawbacks in the last few pages.
It's about as good as any of Neil Gaiman's novels about misfits discovering parallel worlds in which they are people of great significance. Phrase for phrase, Gaiman is the better wordsmith, but Connolly has put together a story that sparkles with just as much raw imagination and human insight.
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