|Daniel Fox and the Jester’s Legacy by Andy Petersen|
|Tuesday, 28 July 2009 03:21|
This novel has had plenty of praise from its publisher, and has apparently been a hit with ‘younger’ readers. For me, though, it was a slow starter. Early in the story, for example, the dialogue was horribly formal. “Morning Frank”, “Hello, Daniel” – teenage boys speaking to each other on a school bus like businessmen in stilted suits. With such stylistic tics, I was skeptical about how the narrative was going to pan out. But things did get more exciting for the reader, and for Daniel Fox.
Daniel Fox is a dead boy. Even when he was alive, things were tough: he lived with his mom, and constantly had to fend off his nemesis, the aptly-named school bully, Levi D’Arc. (I had some fun toying with the anagram.)
After a dodgy encounter at the museum, Daniel is hit by a truck (yeah!), and he comes to pretty messed up in an underworld waiting room, where he must prepare to be rated. In this strange, segregated environment in which he will come to live, ostensibly the most noble city of Arison, capital of the underworld, each new arrival is evaluated by number, depending on how his previous life has been lived. You stick your head in an ordinary cardboard box, and whoa! your memories are read, and assessed. (Keep that in mind if you check some old carton lying around at the back of the supermarket. Careful. The choice is yours. . .)
In the Arison ratings, a score of 1 is the best, 5 the worst, and Daniel is given the rare distinction of a numero uno. Then, in addition to a top lifestyle as a Number 1, he is invited to become a Lower Lord, one of the crew that runs the whole underground show.
So far, so good, but Daniel soon discovers that his status is a demonic curse; all is not what it seems. In fact, all the other Number 1s have mysteriously disappeared. . .
There are of course other elements to be factored in to the story. Things get tense when Daniel overhears the King’s evil plan to take over the world; he must flee, and he assaults the King and a Lower Lord on the way. (He’s resourceful, this guy, pretty much the usual kind of popular novelistic ‘hero’. He has the admirable traits of calmness in tricky situations, plus unwavering chivalry. At one point when he’s on the run, he has to steal clothes. But he’s so pricked by his conscience that he later goes back to settle the debt. What a guy. Probably a necessary moral touch.)
As the narrative develops, Daniel meets up with Madock, one of two wizards left on earth, who is willing to protect the fugitive. Madock liaises with Grangar, who is himself one of the deserter Lower Lords who’d fled Arison 100 years before. His strength has been grievously damaged by his years on earth, away from his demonic environment, and the deal negotiated is that Madock will give Grangar a ‘silverstone’, bringing him back to full strength, if he becomes Daniel’s guardian and protector in the underworld.
And so it goes. For some of the narrative, Daniel must spend time with the city of Arison’s Guild of Smugglers and Thieves, whose leader is descended from Robin Hood (he of Sherwood Forest fame). Soon, Daniel Fox is betrayed by someone (obviously, I won’t say who), and the guild has to carry out its emergency evacuation plan. In the house that Daniel comes to occupy, he finds the fairies who have been assisting the Number 1s in their escape. (These are the secret cleaning fairies. . .rather like the dubious dream of invisible domestic workers.) Next up, Daniel breaks in to the stone courtyard in order to read some of the King’s files and find out what he’s up too. However, he is distracted, and becomes entranced by the harlequin’s necklace – which he steals. . .
At times, things get a bit much in this book; the writer mixes too many fantasy ideas together, so that there’s a complete system overload. I suppose that this novel would be categorised as a fantasy adventure, although there are elements of science fiction – weird vehicles, pod cars and so on, although the emphasis is not on advanced technology. Stylistically, the book has many echoes of familiar tales and half-remembered figures and story opportunities scavenged from movies. Too many. A glut of demons, supra-human intelligent life forms, evil lords, fairies and the like. There’s just way too much going on, so that Daniel Fox and the Jester’s Legacy won’t stay with me in the sense that Eragon does, which is right now repaying my fifth read.
There’s a difference, isn’t there, between jam-packing a plot and creating something that flows, plausibly, taking a reader along for the exciting ride? I’m not against narrative experimentation or swooping plot convolutions, but sometimes, with this book, the manic mix screwed my interest and sent my brain reeling.
So, okay, this book has all the raw marks of the rookie - the author’s only 17 or something, after all. But who wouldn’t want to be off to such a great start?
When it comes down to it, then, I have to admit that Andy Petersen’s first novel deserves much more than just a ‘Nice try!’. Maybe you should give it a go.