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One For the Morning Glory (John Barnes)

August 12, 2010

This book is one of my all-time favorites. I haven’t read it in almost a decade, but it was even better than I remembered it. The characters were more complex than I had previously detected, and the plot was quite interesting. It has a metafictional aspect to it that I had hitherto not picked up on, as various characters throughout the novel recognize that they are in a fairy tale and therefore see that certain events must have such-and-such significance while others do not.

More than that, Barnes’ novel has a host of wonderful characters. Even aside from Amatus and his four companions (the Twisted Man, Golias, Psyche, and Mortis), the characters in this novel are genuinely likable. There’s Cedric, the Prime Minister gone General of All the Armies with a bad beard-chewing habit; there’s Sir John Slitgizzard, formerly Escree Jack, who befriends the young prince; and there’s Duke Wassant, a cheery and friendly fellow who dies a noble death. But more than that, these characters illustrate one of the book’s larger messages: good friends are hard to find, and they’re of great worth when you do find them. Cedric’s relationship with King Boniface is an example of this — their friendship kind of completes them.

There’s also romance to be had in this story, what with Calliope and Amatus’ budding romance. Barnes doesn’t really forget about anything as his characters clash with goblins and vampires and undead soldiers. He even tosses in a Riddling Beast who befriends the good guys and develops a deep and longstanding friendship with Sir John. Perhaps the best surprise of all in this novel is the way it’s written. The tone is light and fun, the puns are innumerable, and the humor is present on nearly every page. Barnes has the tact to leave some things unexplained (such as Mortis’ shape shifting upon her death), thereby retaining some of the magic of the fairy tale. It’s a great read, and one that I’m glad to have on my shelf.

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