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Heroics for Beginners by John Moore3 stars
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Buy from Barnes & NobleBuy from IndieBoundBuy from PowellsThe Full Disclosure Dept. insists I inform you that John Moore is an old buddy of mine from when I lived in Houston. We went to college down there at the same time, and at the 1986 Worldcon in Atlanta we shared a room. Ah, good times. But now he’s writing and I’m reviewing, so I have to be the model of professionalism, I suppose. No rank favoritism here! 

John Moore has previously published one fantasy novel, 1992’s Slay and Rescue. It was a lighthearted farce like this one, and I remember thinking it was cute but a little juvenile. It sold poorly and in the intervening years John only published one more novel overseas (The Unhandsome Prince, which Ace finally released in the US in 2005). But this career revival looks like it will be the real thing. In Heroics for Beginners John has created a fantasy-comedy that neither tries to cover ground already trod by Terry Pratchett, nor relies on the kinds of tired puns and gags we see all too frequently from most of fantasy’s other wannabe wits. Here John has done something delightful. He’s written a satire that lampoons just about every genre trope in existence while at the same time giving us a real romantic adventure story starring a likable hero and heroine for whom we eagerly root. 

Prince Kevin Timberline of Rassendas is one of several suitors for the hand of Princess Rebecca of Deserae. But no one knows that Kevin and Becky (yes, Becky, of course) have been seeing each other on the down low for a little while now. When Becky’s father, King Calephon, has his Ancient Artifact Model Seven stolen by the evil Lord Voltmeter (okay, that’s a bit too on-the-nose), it’s taken for granted that it will be retrieved by the bold and arrogant young Lord Logan of Angostura. And, of course, Logan will be granted Becky’s hand in return. Since Kevin would rather marry Becky and vice versa, he contrives to dash off in advance to Voltmeter’s Fortress of Doom in an attempt to recover the Artifact himself. Off Kevin goes with only a copy of Robert Taylor’s essential Handbook of Practical Heroics as his guide, a tome that offers sagacious advice on not letting magic talismans into the wrong hands and avoiding getting seduced by the villain’s sexy assistant. But what Kevin doesn’t count on is plucky Becky following him every step of the way and insisting on being part of the adventure.

Sometimes John’s jokes are a little obvious, as when he lazily falls back on pop culture references. (How easy is a Harry Potter reference, I mean, really?) And I thought he repeated the gift shop gag about twice too often, but hey. There are plenty of solid belly laughs, too. It’s no easy task to turn in a comic novel in a genre where the form is so powerfully dominated by a talent like Pratchett. In fact, comedy is hard to write, period, because audience tastes are so widely varied. Not everyone laughs at the same things, that’s all. Wisely, John doesn’t worry about being anybody other than John Moore, a fellow with his style of tickling your funnybone. Heroics for Beginners is a perfect little diversion, just the thing to put a smile on your face on a gloomy day. Or even a nice day.