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Book Review: Stuff of Legends by Ian Gibson

Stuff of LegendsGenre: Humor, Satire, Comic Fantasy
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Ace
Publication Date: July 27, 2010
ISBN-10: 0441019307
ISBN-13: 978-0441019304
Author Website: Ian Gibson

Every boy dreams of adventure. Just look at young adult shelves if you do not yet believe. Any adult avid reader likely has a story of a teacher, parent of friend handing them a novel full of rousing adventure, excitement and daring-do. And for every boy who reads, there is one who wishes it could all happen for real. But what if it could? Such is the premise of the comedic fantasy Stuff of Legends by Ian Gibson.

Eliott is a boy who loves to hear stories of adventure. Born into a wealthy noble family, he has been serenaded by bards and the tales of his long-lived elf nanny since the cradle. His favorite stories are of Jordan the Red, who has defeated Conan-style more enemies in a day than other heroes see in a lifetime. Young Eliott dreams of an adventure with Jordan the Red, and when his nanny (and his first crush) gives him a wishing braid, a piece of elfin magic, for his fifteenth birthday, he leaps at the chance to wish for an adventure with Jordan.

But there is a problem. Jordan has been retired, living quietly for twenty years in the little village of Cheese (readers will enjoy the pun) and he has no desire to go adventuring ever again. But of course, circumstances plot against him, and when his agent discovers where he has been hiding all these years, he sends out an evil magician from Central Casting and a bard to forcibly create the next great Jordan the Red saga.

Debut author Ian Gibson skillfully skewers fantasy tropes while still telling a rousing story of heroic adventure in Stuff of Legends. In particular, his use of the reluctant hero is really believable, as Jordan is characterized as a stuffy old coot that is quite happy to fish all day and lounge by the fire at night. Even when forced into heroics, he goes in complaining about it. Jordan is reminiscent of Terry Pratchett’s Cohen the Barbarian, without being a carbon copy.

And his characterization of Eliott is spot-on. The boy has all the selfish, inward looking “me” way of thinking that all teenagers exude at one time or another. It takes nearly the whole novel for Eliott to wake up to the fact that he is an egocentric and selfish individual that is placing the very people he loves in danger. Gibson’s portrayal of the fifteen year old mindset could not be more correct, and when he pokes fun at the strange way of thinking and acting teenagers have, parents and teachers will have to stifle a guffaw.

And of course, the whole concept of an agenting process for heroes in a medieval world, with stories created in some safe office in a bastion of civilization, is a hilarious way to present the traditional sword and sorcery tale. That the same agent who gets the hero a gig also hires his nemesis and his bard adds a layer of comedy. Like John Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars this narrative pokes a little fun at the whole story-making industry, though in this case the scenario is fantasy rather than science fiction.

Gibson is a new author so there are some issues I had in reading the work. First of all, the scene where the elf and bard climb into the crumbled tower felt unnecessary and disconnected from the rest of the narrative. Though I understand how Gibson used the scene to change the desires and motivations of the elfin guardian, I also felt that it was a too lengthy sidetrack from the primary narrative and could have been cut or re-worked.

The plot is a fairly simple one, and while this is not necessarily a “bad thing” some readers may be turned off by its linear direction. Though there is at least one twist I did not expect, one which is the crux of the whole story.

In terms of writing, Gibson is excellent. His pacing of the plot and delivery of jokes is well-timed, and his dialogue does not drag. His characters are fairly unique, but with familiar motivations, and are not some amorphous mass of heroism each indistinguishable from the other. The novel is also fairly clean and suitable for both teenage and adult reading.

I really enjoyed reading Stuff of Legends. The mix of humor, satire, and evident love for the fantasy genre make this one of the better comedic fantasies I have read. If you like the early work of Pratchett, stories by Esther Friesner, or the Goblin books by Jim C. Hines, than Stuff of Legends is a work to add to your shelves. I, for one, am looking forward to more stories from Gibson’s pen.