(Disclosure: I received a free electronic copy from the authors for review purposes.)
“Picaresque” describes a humorous story concerning the on-the-road adventures of a clever rogue or rogues, often operating in a corrupt society; The Prisoner of Zenda, Tom Jones, and Candide are classic examples of this genre.
When court jester Reginald was in prison awaiting execution for telling a very ill-timed joke he made in front of the king, he made a couple of new friends: Hobart the magician and his patient, Sunny, an elf who has something very dangerous wrong with her mind.
On the run, they ally themselves with a few others who haven’t yet found their place in the world:
–the world’s greatest 8-year-old thief
–the world’s only female knight
–the world’s only talking dog
To all appearances, they’ve become just a group of traveling performers, but over time, they (and Hobart’s mentor, who no longer has a body because he accidentally got trapped in a spell he cast to help him spy on the local ladies) become a crack team of spies for the desert City-State of Caravanserai.
Reginald’s letters to his superior, Nina (thrust into an executive position after one of Reginald’s early reports seemed to drive Reginald’s previous superior insane) tell the tales of his and his group’s efforts to outwit and otherwise foil hecklers, bandits, a troll with a fiendish plan for world conquest, the people’s glorious revolution… and, when they accidentally stumble upon the source of all the monsters in the world, a very large dragon.
But more importantly, Picaresque tells the tale of Reginald’s brave and often-apparently-hopeless quest to talk his employer, Nina, into going on a date with him.
About the authors:
Picaresque is a comedic fantasy novel from Wicker Man Studios, the creators of Half Dead, a vampire graphic novel published by Marvel Comics and Dabel Brothers Productions, and Gun Street Girl, a digital comic on the web at http://www.gun-street-girl.com. They have written multiple columns for review sites and other pop culture sites around the web (and still sometimes do).
Dr. Park Cooper teaches English at a college in Austin, Texas, and is the editor-in-chief of the indie comic book company Septagon Studios, as well as a free-lance editor for companies such as Del Rey’s manga division.
Barbara Lien-Cooper is a writer, editor, and adapter of novels, comics, and manga, including adapting manga for Tokyopop (including V. B. Rose) and Viz Media (Nora).
Picaresque is told in a series of letters between protagonist Reginald Jest, former Royal Court Jester to the king of Relaine, and his friends and associates. Most of the correspondence is with his employer and unrequited love interest, Nina Chakya, a woman who is as skilled and formidable as she is beautiful. The story structure is used effectively to keep the pace cracking along and contributes to a lively and entertaining read.
Speculative fiction fans will enjoy spotting the influences; of course, you can’t say “comedic fantasy” without mentioning Terry Pratchett in the same breath, and the authors of Picaresque are clearly fans. But other influences can be spotted here and there; the elf character of Sunny reads like a cross between Leeloo from the movie The Fifth Element and River from Firefly, and lady knight Sasha bears a resemblance to Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones.
Not that I would call Picaresque derivative; the novel strikes a perfect balance between staying true to a subgenre’s tropes and introducing innovative ideas. I particularly enjoyed the explanation the Coopers invented for the sporadic appearance of monsters such as trolls and dragons in the human world.
Nitpicks? Occasionally I’d come across a phrase that struck me as anachronistic; if this was done so deliberately for added comedic effect, it didn’t quite work for me. And there was a section towards the end where Reginald sums up one of the more serious themes of the novel that could arguably be deemed unnecessary (astute readers could have worked it out for themselves). But on the whole, the Coopers have delivered what they promise on their website - an” entertaining, unique tale with interesting characters you can identify with and grow to have some genuine affection for”.
Purchase link: www.amazon.com/Picaresque-Park-Cooper-ebook/dp/B005LEGKAE/