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***Disclaimer: I received a free copy in exchange for a review.***

I almost don’t even know where to start.

This is simply one of the best satirical novels you’ll ever read.  It’s Python-esquely witty, meticulously referenced, surprisingly poignant, tightly plotted, sublimely ridiculous, damned stupid and you’ll enjoy every page of it.   Especially if you like pudding.  You’d better like pudding, because it’s everywhere in this thing.

“We are enemies of old, and I am sworn to an older swear than the swear I swore when I swore to the elves.”

Our hero, Thoral Fist Wielder, is everything you’d expect and more.  And less.  And something in between.  Tall, blond, muscular, speaks loudly and carries a big sword.  Knows lots of words and doesn’t know lots more.   Really likes being clean.  Surprised?- you’ll discover there’s a good reason for it.  His sidekick, Brad, is a talking, ambulatory Koi fish who can’t swim- you’ll notice him on the cover.  Also on the cover is a dark haired elven beauty.  Her name’s Nalweegie- which in Elvish means “the Evening Snack”, because to look on her in twilight quells the hunger of one’s heart without making one feel overfull, as can happen with a more substantial meal.

“It was well known that girl elves were the toughest, most dangerous fighters.  And they weren’t bad to look at, either.”

And did I mention Thoral’s trusty steed named Warlordhorse?

Hardison’s style is pretty funny, if a little verbose.  Hardison delivers the most overstuffed, flowery, convoluted, so-purple-Prince-would’ve-sued-him prose you’ll ever read.   And that’s without even mentioning the color of Thoral’s eyes.  The man knows his stuff; you may not laugh out loud at everything but you’ll definitely be amused- even bemused from time to time.  Don’t worry; it’ll all sort itself out.  This guy’s a master of turning a phrase… on its ear.

“Thoral swung Blurmflard, whistling through the air, the pink fire of its magic glow flaming to light, and the priest’s head left his shoulders with such force that it smashed an onrushing brother in the face so hard that it killed him, the guy behind him and the guy behind him.  The brother behind those three got a concussion and the guy behind him got a bloody nose.”

Believe it or not, there’s an actual plot going on here.  This isn’t some slapped together slapstick; there’s something sinister going on here, and even though you may lose sight of it amidst all the sporking and send-ups, Hardison never does.  It involves an evil sorcerer, of course, a powerful magic spell, a prophecy and the leader of the Bad Religion.  When you least expect it the plot rears its head to remind you what’s at stake, and the threads are very neatly woven together within the foolishness.   There truly is a method to all the madness.  And just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, when you’re just along for the ride- he yanks the carpet out from under you.  There’s twists and turns to this story you’ll never see coming, especially in the finale.  And you’ll be hungry for more.

“One does not simply walk into Flurge… it is a terrifying, dangerous, dread place, crowded with the twisted spirits of the dead and overrun by monsters… It drips with darkness like a burlap bag full of black paint.  The very air is a smelly fume…”

(If you don’t recognize that quote, don’t even bother picking up this book)

Lovecraft, Robert Howard, Lewis Carroll, Michael Moorcock, Tolkien, Fritz Leiber- none are spared from the rapier wit of Jim Hardison.  He pays homage to the masters of Fantasy by roasting their chestnuts over an open fire.   And you’ll love every moment of it.

5/5 stars.

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