This is Tom Holt at his very very best. This is right up there with “the portable door”.
I have a bit of a theory… The first book you read by an author is the one you will always hold as the benchmark and for Tom Holt in my case it’s “the portable door”. It doesn’t matter what others think but you will always claim this as the authors best ever work. This is especially true if you read such a book and it makes an impact through, for instance, the quality of the writing or the intricacy of the plot. In my case it was because “the portable door” was truly and outstandingly absurd in an absurdist genre.
I’ve read a lot of his work since and it is always good but this book “when it’s a jar”, just hits the nail once more.
Here we have the ‘heroes tale’ retold in a manner which excels. For a start, you need to pay attention from the off. Our hero (Maurice – has there ever been an heroic Maurice?) is given his entire destiny by three “witches” in an underground train within the first few pages of the book. The rest of the book fleshes this out nicely and contains plenty of satire; I simply howled with laughter at the explanation of the functions of newspapers.
There is plenty of allusion to classical and contemporary literature and this is typical Tom Holt. Once again I failed to pay attention to the names and was caught out spectacularly by this and found it so so clever.
The plot? See any fairy tale or classical hero tale. Maurice gets a destiny and then goes through the usual trials to fulfil it, including killing a dragon and saving the girl.