Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut 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. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.
What hot mischief is this? No longer content to watch my misery as I try to understand a book about sexualized zombies or author-insertion whale sharks, you sick freaks are now throwing each other under the bus. J. E. Honaker, the author of today’s sacrificial offering, was thrown in front of my dilapidated killdozer by his own sibling. Hopefully this will lead to some good old fashioned fratricide at the next family gathering. The Sordid Tale of Sir Ginger: a Comic Novella is a high fantasy comedy about a valiant knight on a quest to save the princess.
“Why did little Suzy fall off the swings? She had no arms.”
Sir Ginger starts off strong with a description of Fantasy Kingdom 12b, ruled over by a beloved but sickly king. His unbearable daughter will soon inherit the throne, much to the dread of the general population. When she is kidnapped, the general vibe is one of relief, but the king, being a devoted father, seeks out brave knights to rescue his little petunia anyway. The only volunteer is Sir Ginger, a straight-man archetype with a puffed up chest and even puffier sense of honor. This is a great start. Even though it’s called a prologue, it’s clearly just a crypto-chapter, which is fine. I’m not even gonna dock it any points.
The docking of the points comes shortly after, when our perspective cuts to the kidnapper. Our well-evil Orwellian tower-dwelling ne’er-do-well sends a series of obstacles against Sir Ginger to slow his advance and provide an episodic structure to the plot, while trying to figure out what to do with his foul-mannered captive. But the shtick is that this villain is a “pimp,” who talks like a cross between Dave Chappel’s Rick James impression and a middle aged white person repeating Dave Chappel’s Rick James impression. Is the pimp voice racist? I couldn’t say. My “Speaking on Behalf of People of Color” permit was revoked when we as a society realized that it never existed. But it made even me uncomfortable, and I’m sick enough to make a joke below about someone dying in real life. The cringey pimp voice is a symptom of a larger problem with Sir Ginger, and a lot of comedy writing in general.
“Knock, knock. Who’s there? Not little Suzy.”
There’s a reason I don’t talk about comedies very often on this blog. Have you ever read a review of a fantasy parody or a rollicking romcom farce? They usually boil down to “Eh, what can I say? It is the way it is.” I’ve started numerous descriptions of comedies only to throw them away when I failed to communicate exactly what, how, and why it made me feel. Until Sir Ginger came along, and I was able to put my finger on what happened. That’s probably not a good thing.
The comedy in Sir Ginger is hit-or-miss (already a 50% higher hit rate than most comedies), and I think a lot of it comes down to the mix of Watsonian and non-Watsonian jokes. This is where I get to talk about the Obliterat. In The Sordid Tale of Sir Ginger, the Obliterat is a giant rat that you summon for the purposes of squishinating your enemies. Obliterat is huge. And destructive. But Obliterat is also not too bright, and a total coward, so it mostly just runs away from danger and squishinates whatever is in the opposite direction from the gallant hero you’re trying to flatten under several short tons of rat meat. I like this. I like the Obliterat. However, shortly after his victory over the giant rodent, Sir Ginger has a dream about “nubile wenches who spread their legs wider than the Romanian gymnastics team.” How does he know about Romania? I’m not mad at the joke for being tasteless. If anything, you could double down on that without breaking the fourth wall: “a nubile wench who could ride two horses and a mule all at the same time.” OK, that sucks, let’s try again: “a nubile wench who could kick down two doors on either side of the street.” Man, I am bad at this. Maybe bluer: “a nubile wench who could donate a kidney by jumping up and down.” Too blue. Alright, last try: “a nubile wench who got a job as the village clock tower, but was fired because she couldn’t display 6:30.” There we go. Nailed it.
“What did little Suzy get for Christmas? A skateboard! Just kidding. She couldn’t open the box.”
Point is, if unlike me you were some sort of… talented writer person, you could come up with an in-universe joke. Breaking the fourth wall is best used sparingly, if at all. Since we’re talking about fantasy comedy, let’s talk about Terry Pratchett. In the first book in the Discworld series, The Color of Magic, there is a scene where the heroes briefly end up on a passenger jet, and it’s weird. Pterry rightly decided to not do that again. Instead there are (very!) occasional moments where the fourth wall bulges slightly; a character invents a camera and feels the inexplicable urge to call people “dahling,” for example. It’s as confusing to the characters as it is to the reader. But you wouldn’t see something like “Sam Vimes felt like a Kardashian when he stepped in front of the camera.” Should everyone be just like Terry Pratchett? Certainly not. He’s dead. But he’s a useful example of how you can make fantasy funny by hinting at the absurdity of our world while cheekily dancing around it. It’s like playing “I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you” with the gloomy dystopia we all live in. When Honaker keeps his jokes confined to the universe he has built, they do often land. I like that people call Sir Ginger “rusty,” because he’s a redhead but also covered in metal. He’s a thinker, our J. E.
I have a lot of problems with this book, but when the humor does land it’s good. I can tell Honaker puts a lot of thought into the flow of dialogue and the timing of punch lines. I’m eager to see where he goes next stylistically. Maybe he’ll take my advice and stick with a more diegetic perspective. Or maybe he’ll go the opposite route and go comprehensively bananas with fourth wall and cross-the-line-twice edgy humor. Either way, he’s one to watch. The Sordid Tale of Sir Ginger: a Comic Novella is a short read, but appropriately priced at one dollar on Kindle.
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