"The Outsorcerer’s Apprentice"
(A Novel of Overlords, Underlings and Inhuman Resources)
Review by Kevin J.J. Carpenter
Editor's Note: When you pick this book up in its paper incarnation, the initial impression is that maybe it fell out of the box on the way to the shelves... perhaps even a couple of times. Then you realize, wait: are those scorch marks? The very capable Kevin J.J. Carpenter has the rest of the report.
Mmmm. Try telling that to an army of belligerent goblins. Or the Big Bad Wolf. Or a professional dragon slayer.
Who is looking after their well-being? Who gives a damn about their intolerable working conditions, lack of adequate health insurance, and terrible coffee in the canteen? Thankfully, with access to an astonishingly diverse workforce and limitless natural resources, maximizing and improving operating profit has never really been an issue for the one they call "the Wizard." Until now. Because now a perfectly good business model -- based on sound fiscal planning, entrepreneurial flair, and only one or two of the infinite parallel worlds that make up our universe -- is about to be disrupted by a young man not entirely aware of what's going on. There's also a slight risk that the fabric of reality will be torn to shreds. You really do have to be awfully careful with these things.
This is a fun book! With The Outsorcerer's Apprentice, Tom Holt weaves a satirical mosaic hidden under the guise of an eccentric -albeit clunky- fairy tale perfectly suited for the modern world. There's plenty of techno-talk, a wealth of socio-political overtones, enough caustic language to garner a giggle, and most of the characters have an extreme case of cynical meta-syndrome, an increasingly popular trope in literature. The story has been penned solely for the internet generation, and all is held together by a surplus of sardonic humour. The world Holt introduces to us is an amalgam of classic stories and while the presentation of this alternate reality is graceless and cumbersome, a coherent understanding of its complicated history is evidentially not the author's intention.* A little dubiety no doubt goes a long way in allowing readers to appreciate Holt's foreign fairy land. When one also considers that the world is described as nothing more than a patchwork of city-states, each weaved from our childhood imaginations, it is easy to understand why the author chose a less-explicative approach. The story itself can best be described as a modern fairy tale. The familiar beats are all here and Holt uses a host of time-honoured tropes. There's the typical 'Once upon a time' opening, the particularly persistent Big Bad Wolf, and a strong female protagonist who practically begs to be the brainchild of the Brothers Grimm. Holt also offers plenty unanticipated twists to the genre staples. For example, the childhood fear of wicked relatives and cannibalistic witches has been updated to include an emphasis on economic instability. Quite ingeniously, Holt never treats the issue as anything more than allegorical, even going as far to state that economics is a 'wizard's word'. Furthermore, Holt portrays his goblin king as an empathetic characters, shown to genuinely care for the safety and longevity of his goblin-kin. This beast of the underdark is far removed from the gluttonous pigs of Rossetti's Goblin Market or the industrious demons from The Lord of the Rings, and it's a refreshing interpretation of a stale cliché.
Although Holt's peculiar novel can be a gratifying and amusing experience, the enjoyment factor is entirely dependent on how one approaches the story. At least a spattering of interest in the mythical is crucial. A base knowledge of pseudo-science and admitting to a guilty pleasure of the satirical would certainly go a long way toward appreciating the core substance of Holt's wacky world. As I said before, this is a fun book, and it doesn't try to be anything more than that.
*After a little research, it appears The Outsorcerer's Apprentice is actually the conclusion to the YouSpace Trilogy, which might account for some of the disorientation in the text, but can still be enjoyed as a standalone novel.
Disclosure: A complimentary copy of the book was provided in exchange for an honest review.
Kevin J.J. Carpenter is a professional editor, writer and an avid reader. He enjoys all genres, particularly the classics, and has a personal library of nearly 1,500 books. He currently resides in Sydney, Australia. For more of his reviews, you can visit his GoodReads page HERE. ( https://www.goodreads.com/kevinjjcarpenter )