Satirical fantasy is a subset of comedic fantasy, in which all the tropes of fantasy that we know and love are used and then laughed at. Basically, logic is suspended—or used to such a high degree that all the familiar tropes make no sense, which achieves essentially the same result—and the ridiculous is expected. It’s a commentary on what we find interesting, and it takes itself perfectly seriously. It just doesn’t expect the readers to do so. So when I say that The Alehouse Wars by Michael Evan and JMD Reid is a highly entertaining satirical fantasy, you should know precisely what to expect. Only…add seals and walruses.
1. Thoughts on the plot
As with the typical epic-style fantasy, there is an outside threat that, well, threatens the way of life of our entire cast of characters. In this case, the harbour seal community and their beloved ale. The threat is epic—everyone is going to die or become slaves and their ale is going to be taken—and the response must be similarly epic. This sort of plot is fairly familiar, given that it is used in many large-scale fantasies. If you ignore the fact that the characters are seals, the threat is from walruses, and the stakes are beer, then everything is familiar. The fact that this plot contains all of those things allows us to smile at the ridiculousness of taking something as familiar as a way of life, and trivial as beer (says the non-drinker), is entertaining. It has a battle scene, a daring rescue, and all the associated character development.
2. Thoughts on the main character
We have two main POV characters in this book, Matthias—the patriarch of his family and general leader of the seals—and his son JM, who is, well, your typical angsty not-quite-adult with a crush. These two take on the world, er, walruses, in order to save the beer and the crush respectively. They are, in essence, the ordinary person who is raised to hero status. And, frankly, they are both a bit absurd. Highly entertaining and a bit absurd. I enjoy them both. JM is perhaps the more interesting to me, simply because I find snark highly amusing.
3. Favourite part
There are two bits I enjoy for this: one, the narrator basically saying we should ignore all the illogic and just go with it; two, the whole deus ex machina being, well…openly discussed.
The ending. While highly interesting and terrifically tragic, it has nothing to do with anything. I get that it’s satirical fantasy, and there are certain expectations to maintain, but…I have no idea what was going on. I still enjoyed it thoroughly, but that particular out-of-nowhere trope is one of my least favourites. Apparently, even when it’s being openly satirised. Of course, this is just my own opinion, so the critique is more or less invalid. Oops!
If you’re looking for a bit of fun in the style of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, then this is the sort of thing you would enjoy. Irreverent, snarky, entertaining, slightly illogical, so on and so forth. Oh, and it’s about seals. A very good book.