Eric Boss reviews AN ORC ON THE WILD SIDE

An Orc on the Wild Side by Tom Holt
Orbit Books

And now, for something completely different. Some of us remember Piers Anthony, the satirist of the late 20th and early 21st century. Tom Holt (a pseudonym) has written a book worthy of the tradition and forwarding the cause of fantasy satire. His extraordinarily clever and snarky style is a joy to read, especially if you follow contemporary events and have read a lot of dwarf-and-sword-magic-jewel- dark-lord kind of books. Also, if you enjoy social commentary that lampoons the middle class, especially the British middle class, this is your meat.

An enterprising if felonious real estate promoter has discovered a way to travel between alternate universes using ring-shaped objects (donuts, cheerios, etc.) and is flogging properties in a place listed as “The Realm” which were previously occupied by magicians, dwarves, dragons and so forth. Imagine a black tower with no doors or windows visible from the outside and accessible only with a “key code” which is the recitation of an incantation. Or perhaps a complex of mines with chambers suitable for a throne room, feasting hall, dungeon, etc. Priced well below market value of property in Putney, they look attractive to the jaded accountant-advertising executive class.

The fly in the ointment, though, is that much of The Realm is still occupied by dwarves, elves and goblins who are only recently trying détente in favor of wholesale mutual slaughter. From their point of view, the newcomers represent a threat of heretofore unimagined proportions with their near-magical abilities to communicate across vast distances with talismans easily held in one hand, access to devices manufactured by the millions in a far-off place called China and weapons with a lethality inconceivable by the relatively bucolic (by comparison) creatures of fantasy. The changes could be fatal to their society, not to mention their corporal selves.

Toss in sly references to contemporary political figures, current international strife and conflict and the all too human propensity to complain about everything that does not assuage the smallest inconvenience and you have a heady mix that is funny, sharply pointed and great fun to read. This may not be Pulitzer or Nobel fodder, but it’s damned entertaining. Mind candy of the tastiest kind.

Shelf Talker: Clever and slyly wrought satire of contemporary society and the plethora of fantasy books, this is great fun to read and makes a few valid points about the human condition on the way. Well worth the time to read if only for the pleasure of laughing at ourselves.