A Demigod Asparagus who lost his magical Nintendo? Count me in. A quick review of a bonkers but awesome book.
I was lucky enough to get an advanced readers copy of a new comedic urban fantasy called Investigation, Mediation, Vindication by Chris Tullbane. I'm not going to lie, the first thing that drew me to this book was the cool cover (see below). It reminded me of the post apocalyptic game, Fallout so I was intrigued enough to click and see what it was all about.
On a side note: I have been having a weird reading slump recently, which is especially weird considering the world is in lockdown and I have had all the time in the world to read. My brain is feeling fuzzy and I can't concentrate on things for long periods of time, so books that don't hook me instantly are getting chucked into a DNF pile pretty darn quickly.
So when I saw this described as a comedy, I thought to myself I need something easy and light hearted to get me out of this slump and so I had a lot of hope for this.
'She flipped through several sheets of varying colour and size and handed me a torn yellow scrap of paper. IT was a yellow pages ad. That was weird enough as it was. Even weirder? It was mine.'
Quick note: This review will be written as a bit of a running commentary of my thoughts whilst reading and explaining the plot. So be aware it will have spoilers. Skip to the 'What I did and didn't like' and the conclusion if you don't want spoilers.
In the first chapter we meet a normal, mediocre private investigator with the worlds most boring name, John Smith. He attends comic con to people watch which is his favourite pastime (I can relate to this massively) and then gets chased by two men dressed like crabs. They seemingly want to hurt him for some reason unbeknownst to John and eventually they catch him, but a mysterious female stranger shows up and kicks their butt. But here's where it starts to get weird because the crab people bleed green blood as they die and the stranger rips one of their heads off and rides off on the body. What?
Not gonna lie I'm loving it so far, I read the first chapter in about 3 minutes and I hope it just keeps getting weirder cause I'm totally in the mood for nonsense and the title of Chapter two is literally called In which the world gets weirder, so I'm buzzing!
So the mysterious woman reveals herself as Anastasia Dumenyova and had been sent to save John before the crab men could kill him for advertising himself in the yellow pages as a Mediator. John confesses to having wrote this ad over a year ago when he had had more than a few pitchers of beer, and was not, as he had proclaimed, a mediator. It turns out that John Smith has been living, like most other humans, completely unaware that there are many other intelligent (and some not so intelligent) species also sharing planet earth. And a treaty was made to ensure that these other creatures hid themselves and never tried to go to war with each other species or humans without first trying to resolve the matter via, you guessed it, a mediator. So mediators were on a kill list for some of these creatures, so that they can freely fight without having to solve their issues like humans. I'm loving how sarcastically well John is taking all this ridiculous news, likening it to all of the books he had read in fantasy worlds and how it was sticking to the script.
'I'd read fantasy books that started out this way. A hidden bloodline. Secret Powers. Women way more attractive than the protagonist warranted. The hitman crabs were admittedly a new wrinkle, but everything else was going precisely according to script.'
Anastasia turns out to be a vampire and makes it pretty clear that if John doesn't agree to mediate between the fighting species then the whole of San Diego (John's home town since childhood) will turn to ashes. So with (VERY little) persuasion he follows her (a complete stranger vampire) to her vampire house (has he learned NOTHING from vampire books, seriously?) to meet her queen and gets his arse severely kicked for what he thinks is not showing the Queen respect. It was actually for somehow resisting compulsion. Here he learns that vampires are unsurprisingly ridiculously attractive, very strong and not very tolerant to his sarcasm.
"Sorry about that, but she's not my Queen." I Shrugged. "Disobedience is kind of an American pastime."
The vampires explain that there is a demigod of nightmares called Lord Beel-Kasan, who literally feeds off the terror of every sentient being in California and who appears to everyone as their worst fear. This demigod has accused the vampires of stealing something that belongs to him and unless they return it he will send each of them to hell. The problem being, no one knows what the demigod thinks they stole. Cue John Smith the Mediator. I love his initial thoughts when told this information, he panics about the fact that he had been a terrible catholic growing up and worries his god will punish him. But what I find brilliant is that because the demi god manifests differently to every person he meets people have no idea what to expect. So when John meets him he manifests as a literal piece of Asparagus with drawn on eyes and mouth. By now John has become accustomed to things being seriously weird so just shrugs it off and even shrugs it off when the asparagus demi-god Lord Beel-Kasan reveals that the item the vampires stole from him is a magical Nintendo entertainment system (yes really!) So John tries to calm the vegetable by agreeing to finding the Nintendo and setting it all right. I'm not going to go into the plot anymore because I don't want to give away anything more but the quote below could help with what to expect!
'In the past week, I'd been beaten and strangled. I'd been blown up by a car bomb and had my blood drained by a painfully sarcastic femmepire. I'd even been thrust from one dimension into another through a whirling shadow vortex in the sky.'
What I liked:
-Pacing was brilliant from the start, which I really appreciate. We don't spend ages following John in his mediocre life before crabs try to kill him, we jump straight to the juicy bits.
-The running commentary in Johns narrating that basically says every funny, sarcastic or ignorant thought that comes into his head. A few times this made me actually laugh out loud. At one point him and Bill the Demigod are getting drunk in a bar and he has a random thought about his hamster that died when he was a child, sheds a tear and then never mentions it again. I love it. John is an idiot, he says some seriously stupid stuff and falls in love with every woman he meets but I'll call him a loveable idiot. He just seems so normal, in the literal sense of the word that makes it very easy to follow his reactions to all the weird stuff going on.
-This feels more like a parody of an urban fantasy, poking fun at its tropes which I was just totally in the mood for so this worked for me. Bravo.
-John says the phrase 'Heterosexual life partners' which made me chuckle as it's what Jay calls Silent Bob in Jay and Silent Bob strike back one of my favourite movies. (Completely irrelevant to this review, just thought I'd mention it to see if anyone else got this reference?)
-I have decided that Bill (Lord Beel-Kasan) is my favourite character. He is just so silly and happy go lucky and random and I love all the different names he calls John. I fancast Will Ferrell to play him (think mugatu in zoolander but nicer.)
-The dialogue in this book is just top. Love how they flow, how differently each character responds to John. They all feel so individual. Amazing.
What could be improved:
-Didn't get much of a sense of world building at all really although good characters and dialogue did kind of make up for this.
-I genuinely loved this so much I can't think of much else to say that was negative other than a few tiny spelling errors and a mix up with some of the chapter numbers. But literally nothing to take away from the tremendous writing.
It's books like this that make me really appreciate the wonderful gift the internet has given us in anybody being able to publish their work without going down the usual route of traditional publishing companies. It means authors like Chris Tullbane who is a really talented writer can get his work out into the world. Will this book win any awards? No, I doubt it. Did I enjoy it? Yes and I certainly would read the sequel as long as includes the same great banter and a bonkers plot. It deserves to be read by anyone who enjoys a laugh and can appreciate this book for what it is. Something I certainly recommend if you are bored in quarantine or in a bit of a reading slump. This easy enjoyable read has lifted my spirits and put me in the mood to keep reading. And to the author: If you send out any physical arcs or need someone to read the sequel I'm right here!! P.s I hope Juliette is in the sequel because I love their sarcastic chemistry.