I laughed out loud on public transport thanks to this book. Like its predecessor in the Drakeforth trilogy, Engines of Empathy, this book is set in a later world than our own, with a few important differences. First, Arthur is (a) God, and the predominant religion that was used as a colonising force was Arthurianism. Secondly, electric devices work by power of empathy. To turn on your car, open your drawers, or operate your toaster, you have to talk nicely to it. Also, things that you don’t think are capable of rational thought, may well be.
Ascott Pudding is Charlotte Pudding’s brother. He is a fish enthusiast. A fish scholar. He is writing an encyclopaedia about fish like no other, discovering powers of perception to assign to each species that they probably weren’t aware they had. Ascott lives on an island in the Aardvark Archipelago, where he fled after the death of his parents to finish his life’s work. His friend Shoal lives in the nearby town of Montaban, and on the ocean. She brings Ascott supplies of frozen pizza, and they are friends, of a sort. Vole Drakeforth is um, well – Vole Drakeforth is Arthur. He turns up when he feels like it. Oh, and there is a talking, drawing parrot called Tacus.
The story here is one as old as time. There is a mystery, some buried pirate treasure, a magic doorway, and some real baddies trying to steal Pudding’s parrot. There is also whale-racing, over the back of the pod of whales which are migrating. Oh, and an extremely intelligent octopus, who is excellent at scrabble. “A braver man might have told himself that there are certainly worse ways to die than being drowned and eaten by an octopus with a killer vocabulary.”
Paul Mannering’s plotlines can be a bit like Robert Rankin’s – just a little too silly – but at his best moments, he writes like Douglas Adams. His characters are alive from the moment you begin reading their stories to the end, and they are all extremely lovable. Even the evil ones are sort of sympathetic.
Treat this book as a sherbert for your brain, between heavy books. Or take it on holiday on a tropical island. Perhaps you’ll find some buried treasure.
Reviewed by Sarah Forster
Pisces of Fate
by Paul Mannering
Published by Paper Road Press