Macmillan-Jones manages to treat the genre with genuine affection.
I’m the first to admit that I’ve never been a big fan of comedy-fantasy. It’s not that I’m surly or lacking in humour—indeed I enjoy amusing lines and scenes within novels—it is simply that satirising fantasy doesn’t do it for me. I am certain that this originates from an intrinsic need to defend the genre against those that mock it and belittle it. Much of comedy-fantasy relies on highlighting the stereotypes and clichés of the genre, pandering to what many non-fantasy fans think of what we read.
So how did I get on with The Mystic Accountants, Will Macmillan-Jones’ second outing for the Banned Underground? Well, um, I really enjoyed it. Before you scream hypocrisy and consign me to an eternity of servitude inside a mystical soul-eating sword, hear me out.
For those that haven’t read the first Banned Underground book, the series tells the story of a colourful collection of characters, the key of which are the group The Banned Underground. They comprise of several dwarves and a bog troll, called Fungus, who plays the saxophone. In the first book we learned of the ancient home of the dwarves, the Helvyndelve, which was under attack by the Grey Mage and
his cronies, Caer Surdin.
In this sequel the Banned Underground embark upon a quest to locate a replacement throne for the dwarven Lord Lakin, which had fallen afoul of the group’s onstage antics. On their trail are Caer Surdin’s Ned (lieutenant to the Grey Mage) and his assistants, who hope to scupper the Banned’s plans. On their way to Wales, the Banned Underground pick up two teenagers, Chris and Linda, who are relatives to Griselda ‘Grotbags’ a witch of great repute. Throw in some wonderfully insane monks, students’ parties and a dragon called Dai, and you have a splendid romp through a fun fantasy yarn.
Macmillan-Jones manages to treat the genre with genuine affection and this saves it from sliding into farce. The world-building, of the various races and orders, and their relationship with the real world is finely crafted. But what about the funny bits, do they work?
The writing in this book is more confident and assured than the first. The jokes came thick and fast in The Amulet of the Kings, perhaps too thick in places and bordered on being distracting. Certainly Macmillan-Jones continues to fire cringe-worthy puns with the speed of an elven archer, but they are less intrusive in the dialogue and plot. There is a balance of puns with satire, irony, slapstick and situational humour. The pop-culture references are expertly done, although some may be lost on an overseas audience, and the music references made me grin from ear to ear.
Ultimately this book works because it is a good story and great fun. It respects the genre in which it is set and targets its humour at a range of topics. I look forward to the third in the series, and to a soundtrack if one ever gets made.
Review by Ross Kitson
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