The Man with the Golden Torc – Simon R. Green

I wasn’t sure I’d like this. I usually dig my heels in and resist “humorous” fantasy novels. They’re not my cup of cocoa. Smart and funny is great; I have a weakness for really clever puns. But I’m not usually willing to offer the same suspension of disbelief to a book written with the primary intent of being comical as I am a more grounded book with a sense of humor. And I’d heard of Simon R. Green’s books primarily as humor.

Well, The Man with the Golden Torc was funny – from the title on through. The wonderful thing about it was that it never sacrificed storytelling to make a joke, never stretched for the humor, never beat me over the head with a pun. Puns did abound – Archie Leech? Ow, and I resent that on behalf of Archibald Alexander Leach – and so did jokes and running gags (“the infamous Molly Metcalf”), and I chuckled several times and smiled more. It was good, and it was funny, and the humor was integral – partly down to a narrator with an honestly witty voice, and partly to a feeling that the world was run by people who saw no reason not to be amusing in the setting up and naming of things, including super-villains. Well done.

And, funnily enough (no pun intended), I learned a couple of things. Eddie Drood (whose name, along with Shaman Bond and Archie Leech, makes me wonder how many references I missed) mentions that the Drood home base boasts Rembrandts, Goyas, and Schalckens … I don’t remember ever hearing of Schalcken before, which is surprising considering he seems fairly major and considering I thought I’d had a fairly decent art history education. I also picked up a few music recommendations (Hawkwind, Mary Hopkins, and Within Temptation), so this was a multi-media presentation.

It also prompted me to look up Jaffa cakes.

This wasn’t perfect. There were a few instances of “But I thought you just said …?” In discussing the merits of the torc and the armour, Eddie explains several times in the first chapter that “no one sees me unless I want them to”, which was (intentionally, I’m wondering belatedly?) funny because it seemed like every time he stated it was just before or after someone saw him who shouldn’t have. The whole book was filled with instances of the much-vaunted perfect, impenetrable-in-all-ways protection of the torc being penetrated or overcome in one way or another. Another “huh?” moment for me followed Eddie and Molly’s hike through the sewers of London. Although a visit to another … establishment … left its scent mark on him to the point that no one wanted to sit next to him on public transport, the schlep through what were described as overwhelmingly pungent tunnels seemed not to leave a trace of odor on them, given that there was no reaction from anyone they met before bathing and changing clothes. Small things, these, but they caught at my attention like slivers in a finger.

So: not perfect, but: overall, I loved it. It was fast-paced and didn’t let go, and I genuinely like Eddie Drood and the earnest goodness of (most of) his family. I loved the story, unique and well thought out as it was. The humor was not unleavened – there are a couple of very serious elements to the plot, and there are sacrifices along the way. But the protagonists are good people doing what they can and what they must, and, occasionally, having a lot of fun doing it. Highly recommended.

My favorite line: “You know, sometimes I swear the whole universe runs on irony.”

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