Ugh. I wish the eARC didn't say I needed to hold off any quotations until I could compare it with the final copy -- or maybe, I wish I had noticed that very tiny print before I got half a draft of this finished. On the other hand, I was having trouble narrowing down which of my lengthy options to use, because, if nothing else, this is one of the more quotable books I've read in the last couple of years.
Kill the Farm Boy is a comedic fantasy, a satirical look at fantasy and even a parody of the genre. But what makes it effective is that for all the comedy, there's a decent story and some solid characters throughout. It's be easy for it to be a collection of jokes, with no story; or a tale full of character types, not characters. But Dawson and Hearne avoid those pitfalls.
The titular farm boy, Worstley, is going about his typical day, full of drudgery when an inebriated pixie shows up to announce that he is a Chosen One -- one who is destined to save, or at least change, the world. To demonstrate her power, the pixie gives one of his goats, Gustave, the power of speech. The goat isn't too happy about being able to speak, but since he was destined to end up in a curry in a few days, decides to travel with the newly appointed Chosen One, his former Pooboy. The pixie, having Chosened Worstley, disappears. Worstley the Pooboy (hey, Taran, worse things to be called than Assistant Pig-Keeper, eh?) and Gustave head off on a quest for glory.
Despite the book's title, we don't spend that much time with Worstley -- instead the focus shifts (for good reason) to a band of hero--well, a group of companions. There's Fia -- a fierce warrior from a distant land, who just wants to live a life of peace with some nice roses -- and some armor that would actually protect her (not that there's anyone who minds seeing here in her chain-mail bikini). Argabella, a struggling bard who is cursed to be covered in fur -- she's basically Fflewddur Fflam and Gurgi combined (last Prydian reference, probably). Every adventuring party needs a rogue/thief, this one has to settle for the klutzy and not necessarily bright, Poltro, and her guardian, the Dark Lord magician, Toby (though some would only consider him crepuscular), of dubious talents. I can't forget Grinda the sand witch (no, really), Worstley's aunt and a magic user of considerable talent.
There are no shortage of villains -- and/or antagonists to this party. There are some pretty annoying elves; a hungry giant; Løcher, the King's chamberlain and mortal enemy of Grinda; Staph, the pixie behind the Chosening; as well as several magical traps, Lastly, there's Steve. We don't meet him (I'm betting it'll be in Book 3 when we do), but throughout these adventures we how much this world, and our heroes lives, have been turned upside down my the worst Steve since one (allegedly) unleashed the preposterous hypothesis that Jemaine was a large water-dwelling mammal. Steve . . .
The writing is just spot-on good. Dawson and Hearne have taken all these various and disparate themes, tropes, characters and surrounded them with a lot of laughs. There's some pretty sophisticated humor, some stuff that's pretty clever -- but they also run the gamut to some pretty low-brow jokes as well. Really, these two are on a tight comedic budget, no joke is too cheap. The variation ensures there's a little something for everyone -- and that you can't predict where the humor will come from. I will admit that early on I got annoyed with a few running jokes, but I eventually got to the point that I enjoyed them -- not just in a "really? they're trying it again?" sense, either.
For all the comedy -- Kill the Farm Boy hits the emotional moments just right. There's a depiction of grief towards the end (spoiler?) that I found incredibly affecting and effective. There are smaller moments -- less extreme moments -- too that are dealt with just right. Maybe even better than some of the bigger comedic moments. This is the reward of populating this book with fully-realized characters, not just joke vehicles.
I have a couple of quibbles, nothing major, but I'm not wholly over the moon with this (but I can probably hit sub-orbital status). There was a bit about a fairly articulate Troll being taken down by a female using (primarily) her wits that could've used a dollop or five of subtly. Clearly they weren't going for subtle, or they'd have gotten a lot closer to it. But it bugged me a bit (while being funny and on point). Secondly, and this is going to be strange after the last 2 posts -- but this seemed to be too long. Now, I can't imagine cutting a single line, much less a scene or chapter from this, but it just felt a little long. I do worry that some of Poltro's backstory is too tragic and upon reflection makes it in poor taste (at best) to laugh about her -- which is a shame, because she was a pretty funny character until you learn about her.
This is probably the best comedic/parody/satire fantasy since Peter David's Sir Apropos of Nothing -- and this doesn't have all the problematic passages. I've appreciated Dawson's work in the past, and you have to spend 30 seconds here to know that I'm a huge Hearne fan, together they've created something unlike what they've done before. Well, except for their characteristic quality -- that's there. I cared about these characters -- and they made me laugh, and giggle, and roll my eyes. This is the whole package, folks, you'll be glad you gave it a chance.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this.