Book Review – The Murdstone Trilogy – Mal Peet (David Fickling Books 2015)

This is the last book written by Mal Peet before his death in 2015 and his first aimed at an adult audience.  Mal Peet is better known for his books for children and young adults and won a number of awards of the years.

Perhaps a touch autobiographical, The Murdstone Trilogy is the story of Philip Murdstone, a writer who specialises in young adult novels about sensitive boys that are well received critically but don’t actually sell many copies.  Murdstone’s agent twists his arm into writing a fantasy novel, a genre that Murdstone detests.  

This then is a comedy fantasy (or a fantasy comedy?).  It is difficult to avoid comparisons with Terry Pratchett.

Murdstone’s agent explains the essential concepts of ‘High Fantasy’ involving a realm, dark lord, shire, dorcs, dwarves, greybeard, a sword with a Welsh-sounding name, a quest, dragons and an ‘amulet of something or other’.  

“The style for High Fantasy is sort of mock-Shakesperian without the rhyming bits.”

In attempting to write a fantasy in the classic style, Murdstone is visited by Pocket Wellfair (great name) a magically powered scribe from another realm, who needs Murdstone’s help.  In return Wellfair can help Murdstone with his fantasy masterpiece.  Wellfair is a cussing dogsbody and brings to mind some of Pratchett’s characters such as Coroporal Nobby Nobbs of the City Watch.  

As well as mocking High Fantasy, Peet rails against the changes to writing and publishing brought about by the Internet age.  Murdstone rants:

“Writers no longer work in solitude, crafting meaningful and elegant prose.  No. They have to spend most of their time selling themselves on the fucking Internet.  Blogging and tweeting and updating their bloody Facebook pages and their wretched narcissistic websites.”

In channelling the memories of Pocket Wellfair, Murdstone writes Dark Entropy which quickly becomes a bestseller.  Despite being a fraud, Murdstone’s vanity leads him to accept the accolades of the critics and the financial rewards of finally selling more than a handful of books.  Murdstone becomes addicted to success, he is weak and difficult to like as a character but humorous nonetheless. 

Peet also has a good-natured dig at Steampunk, which is described by a librarian from Tavistock library as;

“Victorian time-warp.  Like Blade Runner directed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.”

Peet’s satirical take on fantasy and the requirements of writers to engage with the Internet age is a humorous (but not laugh-out-loud read).

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