October 07, 2002

A Bad Spell in Yurt, by C. Dale Brittain

I remember when this book first came out. I remember picking it up, looking it over, and saying to myself, "Oh. Another incompetent wizard. How nice." Then I put it back on the shelf. At that point I'd read a number of Terry Pratchett's books about Rincewind the inept wizard, and a number of Craig Shaw Gardner's books about Wuntvor the Eternal Apprentice, as well as several other singletons along the same lines, and frankly I was tired of the whole thing. I'm still very fond of Rincewind, but you couldn't pay me to read anything by Craig Shaw Gardner these days (nor for many years prior to this one). But I was browsing about the bookstore the other day, and saw it on the shelf, and thought to myself, "You know, this book has been continuously in print for the last ten years. Perhaps it's better than I expected." So I bought it, and today (so as not to go through the Heinleins I bought too quickly) I picked it up and read it.

Frankly, it was a victim of bad packaging. Daimbert, the hero, isn't so much inept as lazy; as a student he'd been too fond of drinking and skipping lectures to learn what he was supposed. And while the cover makes it look like a zany comedy, it's really nothing of the kind, which is a good thing--few authors are really good at it, and bad zany comedy is unspeakably bad, like a failed souffle. Which is why I no longer read Craig Shaw Gardner; I made the mistake of trying to read one of his books aloud to Jane once. Like the souffle it fell; and there was no point in trying to revive it again.

But I digress. Daimbert, new graduate of the Wizard's School in the City, is hired as Royal Wizard of a small kingdom called Yurt. And Daimbert hasn't been there very long when it becomes clear that there's something wrong. The King is aging unnaturally; Daimbert's wizard locks are broken; the evil something the previous Royal Wizard though he had permanently pent up in his tower chamber is gone. And eventually, Daimbert figures out what it is.

As a mystery, the book is only so-so; the clues were clear enough that by the time Daimbert fingered the nominal culprit the answer had been obvious for quite a long while. But as a fantasy, it was quite competent, and it provided me an entertaining afternoon while Jane was celebrating her birthday. (She had a group of girlfriends to an English High Tea. I was not invited. I was not sorry not to be invited, either. Some things Man was not meant to know.) The book has a good heart.

One other thing that's worthy of note: it's one of the few fantasy or science fiction novels I've read in quite a long while in which organized religion is treated at all positively; and more surprisingly, the religion is Christianity. What a Christian church is doing in a fantasy world I have no idea; but the local priest, while lacking somewhat in humor, becomes Daimbert's good friend. The presentation of Christianity is neither detailed nor profound (nor, in this sort of book, should it be either)--but the very fact that it's positive is remarkable.

Posted by Will Duquette at October 7, 2002 07:31 PM