The Dwellings Debacle (Illmoor Chronicles)
by David Lee Stone
Review by John Berlyne
Hodder Children's Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0340893680
Date: 05 January, 2006 List Price £10.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Comic fantasy is a crowded subgenre, dominated by a few names who have been writing it for ages, with many imitators hanging on their coat-tails and book sales. It's also fair to say that though there have been notable US writers of comic fantasy over the years nowadays it is something that we Brits are really excelling at above all others. There are a good number British humorists selling an awful lot of books and remarkably many of these writers, such as Neil Gaiman, Adam Roberts and Martin Scott work in other areas of fiction as well, be it mainstream or graphic novels or "serious SF". It strikes me also that comic fantasy is a genre that is really hard to get right - publishers are swamped with manuscripts their authors claim are both funny and original (the two pre-requisites of comic fantasy, surely), but they just aren't. So when a new comic fantasy writer does emerge whose work stands up to scrutiny, it is an event worth noting.
In January 2004 I reviewed the debut novel by David Lee Stone, The Ratastophe Catastrophe, the first of The Illmoor Chronicles. January 2006 sees the release of The Dwelling Debacle, the fourth novel in the series and David Lee Stone is looking unstoppable. The plot of this fourth installment is no more sophisticated than in any of the previous books and this is where Stone shows real promise and sound judgement, for he's never tempted to over-egg the pudding. Instead he wisely keeps his stories trim, wonderfully economical, and very, very funny.
The geography of Illmoor is simple enough - it is a continent with perhaps a dozen places marked upon the map where story stuff can happen. This simplicity keeps the action nicely contained. In the capital Dullitch, the ruling Duke Curfew is kidnapped from his bedroom. How this happened nobody knows, for every person in the palace was mysteriously asleep when the event took place. Furthermore, there has been no ransom demand and so there is little to do but call in the best detective that Illmoor has to offer. Unfortunately, he's not in and so his arch rival Enoch Dwelling is called in instead and in his wake follows his partner Doctor Edward Wheredad. Elsewhere the so-called best detective is a half vampire (on his mother's side) - the same half vampire detective we met in the second Illmoor Chronicle, The Yowler Foul-Up. Jareth Obegarde, unhappy to have lost the case to Dwelling, muscles in on matters, bringing with him his newly discovered daughter Lusa and Jimmy Quickstint, ex-thief and gravedigger. Add to this mix the best tracker in Illmoor, one Parsnip Daily - a man with a serious memory problem - and you basically have a recipe for a very silly adventure indeed.
It's no surprise to learn that one of David Lee Stone's heroes is Terry Jones of Monty Python fame, for the two have much in common when it comes to humour. Like much of Jones's post-Python work, The Illmoor Chronicles are very silly indeed. The jokes are silly, the characters are silly, the situations are silly - and consequently they make for an extremely enjoyable read. The Illmoor Chronicles are the perfect thing to pick up between big, heavy, serious books. They are candy for your brain and a better way to zero your reading meter, I can't imagine. Such an accolade, incidentally, is a great compliment to the author, for what he does so brilliantly requires great skill and judgement and the ability to pitch one's work exactly right. It's also worth noting that Stone is not at all sentimental about his characters, rather he's utterly fearless in the way he treats them - Stone is more than happy to kill a major one off when you least expect it!
So much have I enjoyed The Illmoor Chronicles that I'm happy to stick my neck out and proclaim David Lee Stone to be the natural heir to Terry Pratchett. He lacks, perhaps, the satirical edge that Pratchett has, but that is generally born of age and Stone is not yet thirty. The groundwork, however, is being firmly laid for a series of novels that could conceivably rival those of the Discworld in their popularity, and I am sure that Stone's publishers will have to deal with this at some point, for these novels are far too good to be confined to the Young Adult section of the book stores.