1999; 308 pages. New Author? : No. Genre : Humorous Fantasy; Mythopoeia. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
The Wicked Queen’s magic mirror (“Mirror, mirror, on the wall…”) has been hacked., and now her data is missing and the mirror doesn’t work worth a crap. Not that the Wicked Queen would understand what a ‘hacker’ is, but she has caught one of the miscreants (they were all just kids), and the pair of them set out to make things right again.
They’d better hurry though. Some of the ‘real world’ seems to be seeping into the land of Fairytales. And some of the fairyland characters seem to be not quite right.
But who are those funny-looking men in black armor carrying big swords? They go by some weird name. “Samurai”, whatever those might be.
What’s To Like...
The title gives you a good idea of what to expect in this novel. There are a bunch of fairytale characters herein – Snow White, the Three Little Pigs, the Big Bad Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood, etc. But Seven Samurai are pulled from a great 1950’s movie of the same name, and you will also find characters from Literature (Frankenstein’s monster), Nursery Rhymes (Jack and Jill), Disney flicks (Pinocchio), and real life (the Brothers Grimm).
The storyline is more coherent than usual for a Tom Holt book. This is probably because the reader will already be familiar with most of the characters. That can be viewed as either a plus or a minus, depending on how much you enjoy Holt's standard plotline mayhem.
Similarly, since these are for the most part already-established toons, there isn’t a lot of character development per se. But it is fascinating to watch Holt gradually “twist” their personalities. The Wicked Queen gets nicer; Snow White becomes a bit of a b*tch. The Big Bad Wolf starts developing a heroic streak; the three pigs begin to squabble among themselves.
The fable spoofery is seasoned by an underlying theme about computer geekery and what a PITA it can be. “Mirrors” here is a spoof of "Microsoft Windows”, and when’s the last time you saw MS-DOS play a major part in a novel? The ending felt a bit contrived, but it does tie things up nicely. This is a standalone novel, and contains cuss words.
Kewlest New Word...
Mimsy (adj., Britishism) : rather feeble; prim; affected. Here, "a mimsy grin".
Others : Wodge (n., Britishism); Trotter (n.); Specious (adj.)
Once upon a time there was a little house in a big wood.
Not all houses in big woods are quaint or charming, or even safe. Some of them are piled to the rafters with stolen car radios, others house illegal stills used for making moonshine (so called, they say, because one carelessly dropped match could lead to a fireball that’d be visible from the Moon). Some of them are the lairs of big bad wolves dressed as Victorian grandmothers, not that that’s anybody’s business but their own. (pg. 1, and opening paragraphs)
”(T)he shadowy figure stepped out of the forest into the clearing. Not an encouraging sight for a nervous pig; whoever he was, he felt the need to dress from head to toe in shiny black armour, wear a helmet with a mask visor and a huge neckpiece and carry a whacking great two-handed sword. Either the Jehovah’s Witnesses in this neighbourhood had abandoned the Mr-Nice-Guy tactic, or here came trouble. (pg. 172)
“Life (is) a bit like a frog sandwich; some parts of it (are) better than others. (pg. 156)
Those readers who are also Jasper Fforde fans will note a striking similarity between the templates he uses and the one Holt uses here. Indeed Snow White and the Seven Samurai could be described as Fforde’s “Nursery Crime” series set in his “Thursday Next” world.
While it is true that SW&TSS (1999) was published prior to any of Fforde’s books (his first one, The Eyre Affair, came out in 2001), I doubt this is a matter of literary plagiarism. Injecting the real world into a fairytale setting is an obvious and time-honored literary device. Who Framed Roger Rabbit explored it way back in 1988, and heck, if you’re old enough to have watched the Rocky & Bullwinkle show as a kid, you’ll remember Fractured Fairy Tales and Aesop and Son using the same motif.
Snow White and the Severn Samurai, replete with Tom Holt’s wit, dry humor, and plentiful puns, is a light, enjoyable read. There aren’t many storylines that can be described as both complex and easy-to-follow, but this is one of them.
8 Stars. Add ½ star if you know who Jasper Fforde is, and are hooked on his books.