I wanted to love this book. I tried so hard to love this book.
I mean “werechicken”? I was in right there. That’s such an awesome parody with so much potential for utter hilarity. Bring on the werechicken! Let it be ridiculous! Let is be terrible! Let it be hilarious! Fear it’s BA-GAWK!
And some of it is awesome. I got half way through this book and nearly put it down so many times - but each time I was about to put it down there was a lovely little moment of awesome. This lovely little apparently medieval kingdom with its distinctly agrarian feel is full of highly erudite people. I love that the teachers of this rural school turn goldilocks into an analysis of forensic investigation and encouraging small children to read fairy tales and “question the socio-political hegemony those stories are meant to perpetuate!”. Or the farmer and his love of philosophy reminding us that absence of evidence is not itself evidence of absence.
It’s hilarious, it’s really well done and it brings both a wonderful challenge to preconceptions, some nice thinking points and just this almost sublimely ridiculous feel. Every time I’m about to drop the book another moment happens and I think I can keep going
There’s also some nicely interesting themes - like Deirdre rejecting the idea of becoming an apprentice because adults have to specialise and can’t learn ALL THE THINGS instead just get to learn one thing. And there’s Deidre’s inventing which could also be fun…
Except… this would have been reinforced more if Deidre had actually shown a diverse interest in different topics rather than just inventions. Or even if her inventions meant more by the stage I finished
There’s also Fyfe - for reasons I didn’t reach (and don’t matter) Fyfe for some reason has a lot of modern 21st century cultural references pouring into his head causing everyone to consider him pretty weird. And it could be another element of funny, patently ridiculous silliness. And at times it is, it really is. And it’s definitely trying…
But it doesn’t succeed. And I hate to say it because it has all the ingredients of being really really good and zany. And I need some zany… but it’s just not consistently funny. We have brief moments but so much of it is a slog and not funny
Part of the problem is I’m not sure what this book wants to be. It was advertised as YA… and part of it feels that way with the elaborate nature of the language in places. But the general tone and attitude of Deirdre, our protagonist feels a lot more… middle grade; definitely childish. It doesn’t so much straddle that line as teeter across it like the world’s most drunken tight rope walker, constantly plummeting off one side only to climb out of the net to fall down the other.
The worst of his is how Deidre’s mind wanders. And it’s a good way of showing Deidre is easily distracted and what that feels like but this is a description of Fyfe’s facial expression:
“Hi expression wasn’t just vacant. It was completely abandoned. When she looked into his eyes, she could practically see the signs saying, ‘Temporarily closed for renovations.’ Only the sign was askew and dusty, because the renovations had started three years ago, but the contractor ran over budget, and then the money ran out, so the work only got halfway done. And the shop couldn’t reopen like that, but without an open shop, there was no money to pay the lease. So the renters were out. Only meanwhile, property values had leapt through the roof - figuratively, of course, though the roof was beginning to look a bit dodgy, in Deidre’s opinion. And so the owners had raised the rent accordingly, only no-one was interested in paying what they were asking for a half-renovated, mostly dilapidated storefront. But the owners wouldn’t budge because of the principle of the thing. And that’s what Fyfe’s expression looked like.