Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday and Thursday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.
They say those who can do, and those who can’t review. If that’s true then I am a Shaolin master of reviewing, and you are all white belts in my dojo, so listen up. Tipu Finds Magic is a fantasy adventure story about a young man, a magical parallel world, and Vampire Republicans.
Our story begins when our protagonist Tipu explains that he is a dull, tedious person. What I gather is that he is a wealthy college student somewhere in Pakistan who is anxious about the way his life is going. Due to social pressure, he is pursuing an engineering degree, but what he really wants is to be a writer. This seems to be a trend: making a perspective character relatable, or making them good candidates for an adventure, by pointing out, at length, what an uninteresting waste of space they are. Does it hit a little too close to home that he’s an inept wannabe author? Maybe. What’s with all the questions, Colombo? He seeks solace in his friend Abdullah, complaining that his life does not have the meaning he expected it to by the ripe old age of twenty one. When his friend offers little comfort, Tipu starts crying. This causes Abdullah to feel “panicked and embarrassed, as he should be,” and tells Tipu to shut up. This is presented as a totally normal way to respond to your friend crying in public. Boys are the worst. And it’s not that I don’t find self-proclaimed losers relatable. In high school I lettered in quiz bowl. I just wish my escapism wasn’t curated by someone who’s eager to remind me I could be doing something more exciting instead.
Rather than go home with his driver, Tipu decides to go for a walk in the forest. Naturally, this forest contains a clearing with a gnome in it named Nomi. Our intrepid hero immediately starts having a dour conversation about life satisfaction with the creature, who speaks like a small child because, quelle surprise, that’s just what he is. At least the gnome doesn’t tell him to shut up. Instead, he offers to take Tipu to the Other Side through a magical portal shaped like a pool ladder. Once through the portal, we are treated to minimal description of this fantastical setting. Once or twice we are told it’s beautiful, and a few times our narrator simply admits he is bad at describing things and says “you’ll have to take my word for it, it was enchanting.” After one particularly flat description of some fantastical event he turns to the reader and asks “isn’t that weird?” Follow your dreams of being a writer, Tipu.
The message is pretty clear: adventure chooses you. Tipu tells us during his adventure that his life isn’t boring anymore, and it only took stumbling across an interdimensional portal for him to forget about his quarter life crisis. Among the gnomes (after the obligatory scene where he amazes them with a cell phone) Tipu learns that the Other Side is a highly regimented society. The gnomes dig holes, happily toiling for their masters, who are vampires. Apparently there are also wizards, werewolves, djinn, and dragons. The blurb says that this book combines European and South Asian mythology. I couldn’t tell you all the ways that Pakistani culture or folklore influences the setting or the plot, but there was one thing that I really enjoyed. The gnomes were brought to Pakistan by the English. They still call their parents abba and amma, but they’re transplanted English garden gnomes. Same with the vampires and wizards. The only creatures that I am sure are not European are the djinn, and they’re treated as pests. This is all treated as perfectly normal and I love it. In a pseudo-medieval European fantasy backdrop, the elves and hobbits or whatever are ancient beings that have always been there. But of course in Pakistan they’re the product of colonialism.
“I didn’t update you this morning because I felt it would become repetitive. I remember reading about these adventures in books, and they were so thrilling. I’m sorry I’m not giving you that experience exactly, but what can I say.”
The vampire in charge, a Red Queen equivalent named Hakim, finds out about this unlicensed human. Tipu and his gnome hosts are in deep trouble for breaking the rules, even though it was unintentional. How Kafkorwellian. This serves to underscore the unfairness of the Other Side, and Tipu has had enough. He teaches the gnomes to say “whatever, man” to their superiors, and to at least demand an explanation for all the digging. Personally I wouldn’t want to know what the vampire holes were for, but that’s just me. The gnomes, helpless in the face of precedent, are amazed at Tipu, who happily humansplains how things ought to work in a just society. You know those Divergent books? I always thought it was brilliant that those books follow the YA formula where the protagonist discovers she is member of hypercool subculture and also a special person within that subculture, but the thing that makes her special is that she is the same as the reader in that she can have multiple talents. I mean, those books in general give honest, hardworking dumpster fires a bad name, but that one bit is solid gold. Here we have the natural conclusion of that idea. Our YA protagonist is amazing and wonderful for being an oppressively ordinary person with no talents, who astonishes onlookers simply for originating from the same world as the reader.
The other thing I am reminded of is those Renaissance-era satires where the Pope is represented by like, a badger or something. Gulliver’s travels or Candide or The Dunciad. You know what I’m talking about: the protagonist finds himself in a land where everyone walks on their hands, and it’s an indictment of a recent glue tax in Scotland. The Other Side feels like a carefully crafted parody of social injustice, but its presentation is so on the nose, and Tipu’s solutions so naive, that it loses that satisfying bite.
Someone is bound to get something out of this. That’s something I’ve learned the hard way on this blog. It won’t be me, dear Lord no. But every book has something to offer somebody. Tipu Finds Magic: A YA Fantasy Novel can be heartwarming at times in its description of pastoral gnome life. If you can find the main character likable (instead of feeling a fight-or-flight response every time you see a talentless failed writer in print) then you’ll have no problem getting invested in his hapless revolution. Sue Doe (as in Nym, get it?) is perfectly capabale. The prose was utilitarian, but never confusing or ungrammatical, which places the book in an elite class among debut novels. It’s three dollars on Kindle.
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