Stories are…fun. They’re this magical thing that can take reality and make it absolutely unbelievable, while still remaining entirely believable. They can become something more than reality, describing our best selves and our worst selves. And when they turn back and look at themselves as a story, understanding its a story, well that’s when things get really weird. Enter The Adventures of Max and the Captain by Michael Evan and JMD Reid.
1. Thoughts on the plot
On the face of it, this story is a somewhat-standard urban fantasy gamelit piece. You have The Captain, a decent guy who opened his home to a bamboo-eating, talking giant panda named Max. The two of them start out trying to solve the whole “but giant pandas eat a lot of bamboo” issue and from there, it gets progressively more involved. The gamelit piece comes from a strange disembodied voice that only The Captain can hear, detailing how many Experience points he’s gotten, or what part of the game he’s at. And that’s just the beginning. This story involves various issues with having a talking panda around, trying to find love, and eventually figuring out just what the heck is going on with this whole story thing.
Okay, so here’s the thing. At first, the plot seems relatively straightforward. Events happen that lead to other events, as one would expect from a story. But after you get to the 50-60% mark in the story, you have to realise that this is not at all a simple straightforward piece. At this point, I would recommend going back and taking note of the little things that don’t quite make sense. Parse them together and poof! Understanding!
These sorts of stories-that-don’t-follow-standard-guidelines are a bit tricky to pull off. You have to have a specific spot where the expected meets the unexpected, and still have it make sense. I think this piece did pretty well with that, stepping a little farther into the unexpected with each progressive chapter and scene. By the time things get really into the story-examining-itself mode, the readers are prepared to suspend all expectations and just go along for the ride.
2. Thoughts on the characters
Given the non-standard nature of the plot, it’s actually a little surprising that the characters are precisely what I would expect from an urban fantasy gamelit novel with high emphasis on humour. They have just enough depth to feel real, but have enough suspension of disbelief to actually go along with the fact that there’s a giant talking panda ruling the plot. And when push comes to shove in the latter half of the book, they react appropriately. I think it makes a good contrast to the plot, lending the novel a sense of steadiness that would otherwise be missing.
3. Favourite part
I think that the ending bit, involving a certain familiar character and the shenanigans that are promised to come afterwards, is probably my favourite. I can tell you no more than that, because spoilers, but it makes the book very worth it.
I think the only real critique I have for this novel is the fact that the escalation of events into the unexpected takes a dramatic turn during the Good King George segment. Up until that point, the addition of some strangeness is fairly regular and therefore moves along at a good pace. But this section escalates things to such a degree that it takes a moment to adapt. Once you understand what is going on, I think it works out just grand, but for the first few pages, it is a bit jarring. I would have added a bit more oddness to the first sections, or perhaps changed the pacing ever so slightly. But really, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal, more something you notice in retrospect after having finished the book.
Overall, this book is exactly what I have come to expect from the two troublemakers that are the authors, in the best possible way. It’s quirky, humorous, entertaining, and promises to cause great deals of trouble in the future.