2014; 276 pages. Book #38 (out of 40) in the “Xanth” series. New Author? : No. Genre : Fantasy; Puns; YA. Overall Rating : 6*/10.
“So here is my wish. I’m board stiff. I want Adventure, Excitement, and Romance.”
Ah, Irrelevant Kandy. You really should choose your words more carefully when you’re at a wishing well. Magic wells might grant you what you ask for, but they’re dreadfully dense when it comes to grammar.
For instance, in your second statement there, “board” is wrong; you meant to say “bored”. Although just how the wishing well misunderstood this since it was a spoken word remains a mystery. Nevertheless, that's what you said, and it was right after you declared “so here’s my wish”.
Now just look at you. Stiff as a board. Come to think of it, you are a board. With knotholes for eyes and everything.
Now how in the bleep are your other three wishes going to be fulfilled? Can a plank have Adventure? Excitement? And goodness me, I don’t think Romance is possible for a piece of wood.
What’s To Like...
Board Stiff is a pun-lover’s delight, and “puns” in this case includes spoonerisms and malapropisms. Among the groaners herein are bi-polar bears, boot hill, sequins of events, a com pewter, cyan-eyed, and boot rear. For me, the best ones were the computer-related puns. You’ll meet Ms. Dos and her Auto Exec bat, deal with “Macrohard” and its application Macrohard Doors; and try to make sense of the “OuterNet”.
The storyline is straightforward, Kandy picks up an intrepid crew of questors along the way, and they try to find an anti-virus for a plague that's destroying all the puns in Xanth. And trust me, Xanth without puns just would be a sad, sad place.
Kandy’s main cohort is a nice-but-clueless guy named Ease, who also came away from the wishing well having asked for a Perfect Woman, a Perfect Weapon, or a Perfect Adventure. His weapon turns out to be Kandy, in board form, although he's unaware of her/its dual nature and she only reverts to a woman when Ease is asleep or unconscious. Each of the questors has a “talent” and all will have to make use of them before the mission is resolved.
By the story’s count (and I trust Piers Anthony's math) there are 14 “events” prior to the grand finale, so the action is quick and non-stop. However, if you look at the pages-to-events ratio, it's evident that each of the challenges gets solved in quick order, so none of the them are very thrilling, let alone epic.
I had trouble figuring out who the intended target audience was. On one hand, all cuss words are replaced with a “Bleep”. On the other hand, Piers Anthony seems to have a fetish for panties and bras, looking up dresses, and girls getting naked in front of boys. There are no explicit sex scenes, but it is implied that some occur offstage. And although the details of sex are kept secret per the Adult Conspiracy, the term sado-masochism does get mentioned at one point.
Board Stiff is a standalone novel, but enough loose threads remain afterward to allow for a sequel, and the next book in the series, Five Portraits, is exactly that. At the very end, there is a kewl Author’s Note, wherein Piers Anthony cites various and sundry puns that were sent to him by fans of the series. I gather that if he uses one that you submit, you’ll find your name in this section when the book's published. That’s kinda neat.
Kewlest New Word. . .
Bruit (v.) : to spread (a report or rumor) widely
Others: Cynosure (n.); Oubliette (n.)
“It’s always dawn on Antidote Planet. The elixir carries the odor. So when you smell purple waves at dawn, you’ll know you’re close.”
“Dawn has a smell?” Ease asked.
“Purple has a smell?” Mitch asked.
“This is not logical,” Pewter said.
“No, it’s magic,” Ida reminded them. (loc. 3477)
“We are on a Quest to locate the antidote to the virus,” Pewter said. “But we do not know where it is. We have been wandering, searching for hints.”
“An antidote,” she said thoughtfully. “Could the answer lie in the science of chemistry?”
“You believe in science?” Pewter asked, startled.
“It’s a form of magic, less reliable but useful in its place. But mainly, we know where there is a chemistree, that fruits potion bottles.” (loc. 5678)
Board Stiff sells for $6.15 at Amazon. The rest of the books in the series run in price from $2.99 to $9.99, mostly depending on how long they’ve been around. Piers Anthony has several other series besides Xanth, and their prices are also in the $2.99-$9.99 range.
“Go poke your finger in your right ear,” the nearest goblin called back. “And pull it out your left ear.” (loc. 4959)
For me. the storytelling in Board Stiff is rather bland; ditto for the writing style. We go from event to event, but there’s never much doubt as to whether Kandy and her band will succeed, so there’s never any building of tension. For any challenge, there’s always a questor with just the conveniently right talent.
Still, I'm not the target audience, and the action may carry the day for juvenile boys, who will also get their jollies from the male questors snatching glances of their female counterparts’ underwear and occasional nudity. But I think for most adults, who are aware of the secrets of the Adult Conspiracy, this will probably be a tedious read.
The Xanth series has been around since 1977, and I think I started reading the series in the early 80's. I remember being particularly impressed with Book 5, Ogre, Ogre. But the books soon became repetitive, and the wit juvenile. The abundance of puns remained, but that alone wasn’t enough to keep my interest. By book 10 or so, I had abandoned the series.
6 Stars. I picked up Board Stiff to see if things had changed for the better over the last 30 books and years. The answer, at least for me, is sadly “no”.
BTW, “board Stiff” is apparently a popular pun. I found no less than five other e-books at Amazon that make use of the same play on words in their titles.