08 October, 2010

Review - A Festival of Skeletons by RJ Astruc

Imagine Susanna Clarke writes a novel set in Ankh-Morpork and you're getting close to RJ Astruc's A Festival of Skeletons [preorder - release date: December 2010].

It's a dangerous business comparing something that's humorous and fantasy with Terry Pratchett - you run the risk of comparing anything remotely funny and that's obviously not true. But, that's why I drew the line at comparing the city of Kamphor, from A Festival, to the famous Discworld city(s).

As the publisher, Crossed Genres, describes it, Kamphor is a town filled with "zombies, necromancers, merkind, serial killers, and cross-dressing". This irreverent tale follows the often humorous, at least never serious, escapades of two competing morticians (yes, that's morticians not magicians) who find out there's much more going on in Kamphor than funerals, but with much to do with dying.

Ebenezer "Benny" Sink is a cross-dressing mortician with the useful magical ability to know up to the second when people will die. At the moment, he's been a bit off, much to the advantage of his competitor, Damien Torvault, who's been able to get to the bodies before Sink can steal the womens' clothes.

Sink's assistant, Joshua Finkle, is described as being "too bland to hate -hating him would be like hating a chair, or a table, or a brick wall." He leads a support group for the Fifteen Steps and he's very devoted, just don't let him into the kitchen - remember step seven: "Avoid situations that may lead to temptation".

Then there's Vona, Percy, and Arifia.

Vona is also an assistant to Sink and happens to be a merkind who's not into eating her own kind. She's trying everything she can to do more than mop the front porch.

Percy (Percival Holliday) is an overweight ladies man who more than abuses his talent with the ladies.

Arifia is a member of the local police force and Sink's next door neighbor. She wants Sink to suffer for throwing those six inch heels in her direction on account of the noise.

A Festival of Skeletons is a character driven novel that had me cracking up left and right. There are plenty of sex jokes that get a bit old after a while, but overall, there's witty banter and a wonderful flow to the novel that's, as I mentioned earlier, reminiscent of Susanna Clarke's Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrel.

The plot follows an even pace with plenty of surprises that are perfectly foreshadowed. I was kicking myself that I didn't catch on to them earlier, but I was amazed at how wonderfully put-together this story is.

There is one part that left me with a bad taste in my mouth and I'll warn for spoilers right now.

Spoiler Warning:

There is a part where the entire police department is assassinated and Sink says "what I see I cannot change" even though he was the one who sanctioned this happening. Then, later, he's described as being a really good guy. It disturbed me when this happened and I had a hard time getting back into the novel. I was thinking the killers would go after the zombies and in helping/saving the police, the police would let Sink go.

Obviously I'm not the one writing the story, but this was a surprise that I couldn't see fitting especially when people were reformed.

/End Spoiler Warning

When Should You Read A Festival of Skeletons?

This was a nice break in my regular reading schedule and at only 175 pages, it's the perfect size for a break. A Festival of Skeletons is humorous and witty book that was a nice change of pace and definitely recommended. RJ Astruc is an author I will look for in the future.

Also, did I mention the cover's amazing? It perfectly describes every character and I'll leave it at that.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 Stars (would have been 4 but for the bad taste mentioned above)

A Festival of Skeletons will be released December 1, 2010, but through October, Crossed Genres is running a pre-order drive at kickstarter.com.

Read the first 3 Chapters here. (These sucked me right in and show the pace of the rest of the book)


BryStearns said...

Glad you enjoyed the book so much. I've been looking for a good fantasy-humour book to read lately, might have to check this one out.

Bryce L. said...

Oh yeah, this is a great one. Each character is hilarious in his or her own right, never a dull moment.

Tahlia said...

One bad taste is enough to really kill a book for me especially if it's something you fell strongly about and you feel it doesn't fit. It become gratuitous then.

Writers have to ask themselves, is it really necessary?

I know. I'm doing it on my ms at the moment.

Bryce L. said...

@Tahlia - I imagine it's a tough line to draw as the artist from whose imagination everything comes.

Honestly, I'd still recommend the book even with the bad taste, but I hear ya. A bad taste can be a books demise in my "book" as well. :)