Peril in the Old Country by Sam Hooker

PitOC1
Cover animation courtesy of HiuGregg over at The Fantasy Inn

The Plot

“What terror lurks in the shadows of the Old Country?

Well, there are the goblins, of course. Then there are the bloodthirsty cannibals from nearby Carpathia, secret societies plotting in whispers, and murder victims found drained of their blood, to name a few. That’s to say nothing of the multitude of government ministries, any one of which might haul one off for “questioning” in the middle of the night.

The Old Country is saturated with doom, and Sloot is scarcely able to keep from drowning in it. Each passing moment is certain to be his last, though never did fate seem so grim as the day he was asked to correct the worst report ever written.

Will the events put in motion by this ghastly financial statement end in Sloot’s grisly death? Almost definitely. Is that the worst thing that could happen? Almost definitely not.”

Recommended Listening

Music From the Films of Tim Burton by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra

My Thoughts

Sloot Peril is my favorite sort of protagonist – the kind who comes from a place of honesty. In much the same way that most of us would find ourselves sorted into Hufflepuff if we were totally honest with ourselves, the majority of us have more in common with Sloot than we do the real heroic heroes of fantasy, like Aragorn or Conan. Sloot is a tightly wound accountant with a strong survival instinct and a deep love of bureaucracy and routine. He’s anxious, cowardly and somewhat haughty – sort of an interesting mix of all the negative qualities of a pre-tower Thomas Senlin, Bilbo Baggins and Rincewind.

In this dark comedic fantasy there are echoes of a great many influences, a little of everything from Edward Gorey to George Orwell. This is a dystopian tale that covers a number of fairly heavy subjects in a light and satirical fashion. While there is definitely a hint of the Discworld in its tone, Pratchett’s rage against injustice was never far from the surface. Hooker opts for a more darkly amused, fatalistic approach. It’s gallows humor done very well indeed, and while for me there weren’t always big laughs, it was consistently amusing and I chuckled a lot. The plot at its most basic is a standard reluctant-hero-thrown-into-an-adventure story, but there are none more reluctant than Sloot Peril, and therein lies the comedy.

The pacing of the story is a little inconsistent, but the author’s voice is strong enough to carry it through the lulls, and the characters are great fun. The secondary characters are pretty well developed for the most part and they are each given the opportunity to shine through the excellent dialogue. Lord Wilhelm and Nan in particular are absolutely hilarious – Willie’s naive ignorance and lack of self awareness was the highlight of the novel for me, and Hooker’s deft commentary on people who have more money than sense was hugely enjoyable. It reminded me quite strongly of Hugh Laurie’s portrayal of Prince George in Blackadder, just the right blend of well-meaning and dimwitted that comes with having been born too rich to really need to learn anything. I also found that despite some obvious foreshadowing, I genuinely believed the narrative was heading in a certain direction, and then, it… didn’t. It did exactly the opposite of what I expected, and I was absolutely delighted. I don’t want to go into detail because it would ruin one of the fun surprises of the book, but Hooker did a great job of turning my expectations on their head despite having signalled well in advance that he was going to do so.

However, sometimes there has to be a bit of bad with the good. While the prose, setting, dialogue and character development were all very strong, there was a failing that unfortunately means I have to dock it a star, and I’m truly sorry to do so because it was otherwise excellent. The ending that was not an ending. Perhaps it was a deliberate choice, but from my point of view it felt like the author didn’t know how to end the novel and so chose a cliffhanger in order to give himself some breathing room to sort the mess out later. Rushed, abrupt and unsatisfying. There was no resolution of any kind to be had – and while I am dying to know what happens next, I feel this could have been handled better. However, the good most definitely outweighs the bad. I know I’ll still recommend this to several people I know, but I’ll have to give them a heads-up about the ending and I do hope that this won’t be a hallmark of the series. Outside of this flaw, it’s genuinely wonderful and I look forward to book 2.

Score: 7.7/10 (4 Stars)

Peril in the Old Country will be released on June 5th.

Thank you to Netgalley and Black Spot Books for the ARC!

Bingo Squares 2018

  • Reviewed on r/Fantasy
  • Features a Library
  • Published in 2018
  • Fewer than 2500 Goodreads Ratings (as of 5/18)
  • LGBTQ+ (Hard mode: not yet in database as of 5/18)

The Cocktail

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Carpathian Blood Brandy

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