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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Murdstone trilogy by Mal Peet (Reviewed by Joshua Redlich)

Order The Murdstone Trilogy HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Mal Peet published his first novel, Keeper, in 2003. It was translated into several languages and won the Branford Boase Award. He next won the Carnegie Medal in 2005 and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in 2009, as well as a Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor in 2012 for Life: An Exploded Diagram. Born in Norfolk, England, in 1947, Mal Peet passed away in 2015.

OVERVIEW: Award-winning YA author Philip Murdstone is in trouble. His star has waned. The world is leaving him behind. His agent, the ruthless Minerva Cinch, convinces him that his only hope is to write a sword-and-sorcery blockbuster. Unfortunately, Philip—allergic to the faintest trace of Tolkien—is utterly unsuited to the task. In a dark hour, a dwarfish stranger comes to his rescue. But the deal he makes with Pocket Wellfair turns out to have Faustian consequences. The Murdstone Trilogy is a richly dark comedy described by one U.K. reviewer as "totally insane in the best way possible."

FORMAT: The Murdstone Trilogy is a dark comedy and the first book for adults written by YA author Mal Peet. The story is told in three parts, one for every installment in the titular trilogy. It was published in the US by Candlewick on September 22, 2015 and is available in Hardcover and as an E-book and audiobook.

ANALYSIS: Reminiscent of Terry Pratchett in the best of ways, The Mursdtone Trilogy is sometimes silly, sometimes hysterical, and at all times ridiculously fun. Though comic fantasies that poke fun at genre tropes that have worn themselves into clich├ęs are far from unique, Peet’s novel is entirely fresh and far more than a simple satire of fantasy. It’s also a brutal yet empathetic caricature of the life of a writer and a sarcastic look at the sometimes ludicrous fanfare accorded to fantasy novels.

I was immediately hooked by Peet’s beautiful narrative voice. Each sentence is packed full of detail, with every word carefully chosen so that they fit together perfectly. I often found myself rereading sentences out loud so I could hear their rhythmic sound and feel them roll off my tongue. From start to finish, the language masterfully captures the droll nature of the story.

Peet’s characters are all wonderfully detailed and appropriately exaggerated to fit the satirical tone of the novel. Personal favorites include Minerva Cinch, the self-serving agent who will do anything to maintain her hard-earned reputation and publish the next big hit; the crazy old twins referred as the Wyrd Sisters that run the public library in the small town of Flemworthy and finish each other’s sentences; Pocket Wellfair, a foul-mouthed dwarf straight out of a fantasy novel (literally); and Philip Murdstone himself, an author of literary YA fiction that has never read a fantasy novel before and yet is commissioned to write one because that’s what sells.

The story told is a dark comedy that feels very British in nature, like a fantasy version of Hot Fuzz. In it, author Philip Murdstone is asked to write a very particular type of fantasy novel, one in which there is a magical world referred to as a realm, elves that live in trees, dwarves that live underground, a dark lord who is oppressing everyone, and other classic aspects of an epic fantasy series. And then, in a drunken stupor, he is approached by Pocket Wellfair, a dwarf from just such a world who recounts its history and thus provides him with just such a story. Readers are left to decide for themselves whether or not the dwarf, the realm, and the rest are products of Murdstone’s intoxication or not. Regardless, as the story progresses, Murdstone becomes more and more involved in the happenings of the Realm, much like a writer whose own life is consumed by his or her books.

CONCLUSION: The Murdstone Trilogy is an absolute pleasure to read. I would highly recommend it for anyone with a sense of humor, especially aspiring or published authors of epic fantasy.


Ian Winn said...

Great review, thanks for posting!
You can also hear the late great Mal Peet and his agent discuss the Murdstone trilogy on Litopia After Dark, sadly one of Mal's last interviews.

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