By Piers Anthony
Published by American Printing House for the Blind
Read by Lee Ewing
What possessed me to listen to the third book of this series after already having listened to the first two? I certainly was not particularly kind in my reviews (A Spell for Chameleon and The Source of Magic ), but I already had this one and so decided I might as well listen to it.
This third offering of the Xanth series starts out about twelve years after the last book when Dor, son of the previous protagonist, is not quite a teenager but has the fantastical talent of being able to talk to inanimate objects, so naturally he is next in line for the throne of Xanth….
Things that are not alive, it seems, have a natural propensity for insulting those who are alive (who knew?) and apparently can remember anything that happened around them forever and ever. It seems that all inanimate objects also have identical personalities, but expecting a broad range of characters from Piers Anthony is foolish to begin with.
As in the rest of the books in the Xanth Series, and most anything else he has written, I’m afraid, the character are two-dimensional at best (some, mostly female characters, are one dimensional) and many are alike, so children are either trouble makers (but never the protagonists) or good and innocent kids, adult males are either wise, urbane and patient or else amazingly stupid (or foolish) and pugnacious. The women are either innocent, sweet and sometimes motherly, or else vicious and… well it rhymes with “Witchlike” to put in in Xanthian terms.
The books stand only to display Piers Anthony’s ability to concoct puns and the puns frequently get in the way of the plot, which thin as it is, cannot compete. He might as well have just written a series of punning dictionaries and have done with it.
In any case Dor is at that special age he is just starting to notice women and as it happens his nursemaid, Millie (formerly Millie the Ghost) has the magical talent of sex appeal. Millie is frequently visited by a zombie named Jonathan who she describes as an old friend so when Dor goes to the king for advice one thing leads to another and Dor goes eight hundred years into the past (because when a tweenager has a problem coping with incipient puberty aren’t you supposed to send him into a dangerous situation?), along with a giant spider who happens to go along by accident, to find a way to bring Jonathan back to life for Millie.
The basic premise does not really hold together, but if you can get past that there is still a thin story to follow and more puns than you might think could fit inside any two book covers. There is an attempt at character development, but merely saying that Dor has become more mature during his quest doesn’t actually make it so. This is a typical Xanth book, so expect a happy ending of sorts, but don’t expect surprise twists anywhere along the line. There are none.
My only complaints with Lee Ewing’s reading is his occasional resort to very annoying “funny voices” such as that of Magician Humphrey. Oh sure, Piers Anthony refers to him as an “old gnome,” but I really do not think he has to sound so much like one. Humphrey’s voice and that of several other characters sound like bad cartoon voices and what makes them worse is that most character have fairly normal voices, so when you get one that grates so badly on the ears it seems even worse.
Still to be fair, the Xanth books are essentially verbal cartoons, so maybe I am wrong and Mister Ewing is right. It could well be that he did not go far enough in inventing parodies of human (and otherwise) voices. Maybe this should have been made to sound like a poorly drawn cartoon.
As it is, I think Lee Ewing did a passable job except for those funny voice lapses. However, the plot is too thin for even the best reader to improve, so we have a talented reader doing his best to brighten up a story that should not have intellectual appeal to anyone beyond high school age.