While you could call 20-something Florida resident Prince something of a dreamer, he could never have dreamed something like this; waking up on a bed of straw in place of a normal, comfortable mattress, he’s quickly greeted with his brother, or at least, a man identical to his brother who now claims to be a wizard-in-training, complete with staff and wizard hat.
Quickly, the dapper doppelganger yanks him from his rest to continue their apparently urgent quest. Armed only with a mismatched pajama set and a sense of unrelenting confusion, Prince joins his newly-wizarding, evidently-amnesiac brother Ricky on a magical adventure to save this strange, new, oddly-Medieval world. The dubious legends of Prince and Ricky are forged in Prince Dragonslayer, the debut fantasy novel by C. G. Cactus.
Prince Dragonslayer has a lot going for it: most of all, it’s got a really good sense of humor about itself and isn’t afraid to jab fun at the fantasy genre without mocking it outright. It fits very snugly into the category of a pastiche, adoring its roots and and holding its poker face long enough that you can fall right into the world before the inherent silliness starts to make itself known.
This book gave me flashbacks to early Pratchett novels, which is always a good thing, even if author Cactus is plainly willing to take the joke several steps further and laying his comedic hand out more than holding the world and characters to his chest. There’s obvious, sincere appreciation and care taken in the book, with some real character development in there somewhere, but it’s a comedic outing at the end of the day, not an expansive world to be taken seriously.
For all the joking, however, the book really takes off at such a pace that it’s easy to get lost, though evidently in ways that the author didn’t intend; descriptions of just how different this new waking world is for Prince take a great deal of the early wordcount, bogging things down for anyone who took even a glance at the blurb before reading, meanwhile skipping quickly through some of the most pressing questions that seem to be answered at quite random intervals. The pacing is generally unnatural for much of the early parts of the book, and while as a whole there’s a very smooth structure in terms of beats leading into chapters and into whole acts, when it comes to the story-as-read everything is just a little bit stilted and could have done with a rigorous ironing-out with a watchful pair of fresh eyes.
For its flaws, there’s something great in Prince Dragonslayer, edging on some John Dies At The End-style writing with plenty of originality behind it, albeit buried in an at-times almost suffocating average fantasy setting that really only develops into its own after a considerable page-count slog. It’s a hefty enough book that does eventually deliver on its concept, and in all it’s a real joy to follow Prince and Ricky on their bizarre outing. Plain in appearance, but stuffed with enough kooky and enough real fantasy meat to stand up to a taste test. Give it a try, if you’re willing to bite into something truly eccentric.
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