Kill the Farm Boy: The Tales of Pell

HEARNE, Kevin & . 384p. (Tales of Pell: Bk. 1). Ballantine/Del Rey. Jul. 2018. Tr $27. ISBN 9781524797744.
Combining the satirical fantasy of authors such as William Goldman, Terry Pratchett, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Tamora Pierce, Hearne and Dawson have written a thoroughly enjoyable, enormously ambitious novel. The authors state in their acknowledgements that their book specifically refers to killing off the "white male power fantasies," though they are substantially more successful at skewering the male-ness than the white-ness of the genre. The eponymous farm boy is anointed the "Chosen One" by a fairy in Chapter 2 (titled "In a Squalid Barnyard in Borix, Redolent of Feces and Angst") and is, as promised, dead after two more chapters. Readers are left to follow his (now) talking goat, Gustave; his accidental killer, Fia, a powerful warrior in a chain-mail bikini; an enchanted half-rabbit bard named Argabella; the Dark Lord Toby, whose magic primarily consists of causing bread products to rain from the sky; and a variety of supporting characters. Surprisingly, it is Dawson and Hearne's careful attention to their characters that proves the novel's greatest strength, much more so than their hit-or-miss puns or socio-politically minded satire. Fia and Argabella develop a tremendously touching relationship, Gustave steals many a scene, and the unexpected deaths of two traveling companions are genuinely moving.
VERDICT The humor and empowerment theme should make this an easy sell for teens, and they'll stay for the well-drawn characters. Give this one to fans of Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett, or William Goldman.

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