Book Review: Cider for Harborland by Michael Evan and JMD Reid

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Have you ever said something to someone and then they took that one comment and ran with it like a hyper-competitive pre-teen during a game of capture the flag? Yeah… I mentioned that Michael Evan and JMD Reid’s Cider of Legend was a little too predictable, a little too on-genre, even though it is a satirical fantasy poking fun at said genre. I said that it needed some entropy. And you know what happened? Cider for Harborland happened.

1. Thoughts on the plot

Now, you must understand that this book is a crossover between the Alehouse books—featuring seals, walruses, ale, epic battles, magic and mech—and the quest-novel featuring snakes on a search for a mystical and magical cider. So you’re not going to get a standard plot out of this. However, being a satirical fantasy, there is also a generally accepted requirement that the plot has to follow standard fantasy guidelines. This does that.

How? Well, at first, we start with the snakes in the desert, called by mysterious dreams to spread the Cider of Legend to Harborland. Why? Well, we’re not sure until much, much later. This first part of the book follows a mostly-standard quest-by-dreaming plot, except things are, as expected, a little odd. The standard pieces that you would find in such a novel are twisted, changed, poked fun at, etc. Which is entertaining in of itself, but this then leads into the slightly-more-chaotic world of Harborland. 

The first two Alehouse books were…well, let’s just say that logic was not a requirement. The part of this book featuring our seal friends is equally illogical, providing the perfect ground for the crossover from the desert. 

Trust me, as crazy as all this sounds, it does make sense.

2. Thoughts on the characters

The characters in this book are the familiar ones that we’ve seen in all the previous books. We have Mik’hai and Le’thal the sidewinders. JM and Matthais as the seals. They are familiar and enjoyable.

The other characters in the book that we get to see more of are Sandy Sam (sidewinder), Scotty (cider-brewing lizard), Mary Sue (don’t get me started), and a cameo by the authors (trust me, it’s better if you find out yourself on this one). I like the new characters and the old characters; they mix together very well and make the crazy plot make sense, which is a feat in of itself. I think that the linguistic oddities of Sandy Sam and Scotty are probably my favourites, but that could be because I want to hit Mary Sue upside the head. Twice.

3. Favourite bit

The ending portion of the book featuring the authors. As talking about this would likely spoil a good portion of the book, I shall say very little. Only, all the questions were answered and what could have been an extremely pointless ending was instead turned into something (intentionally) ridiculously poignant that was both perfect for a satire and somehow completely sincere. And it explained the whole problematic thing I had with the end of the first Alehouse book, so there was that, too.

4. Critique

I was promised entropy, and entropy I got. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me until the end, so up until that point, I was a little frustrated with the seemingly pointless weirdness. But, as the ending cleared all that up, I can’t really call that a critique. Just…delayed expectation. 

Overall, this book is—weirdly—the perfect culmination to the “series”. (I hesitate to call it a series since the books, excepting the Alehouse books, seem to have nothing to do with one another besides the fact that they feature animals and alcohol. Still, they fit together well, so disregard my inability to categorise things properly.) As a satirical fantasy, this book managed to both follow the expected tropes and poke fun at them, while still not taking itself too seriously. A feat of great shenanigans, to be sure. If you’re interested in the mostly ridiculous, want some magic, some mayhem and a mystical cider, then this is a good book for you.