Book Review: Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne
Kill the Farm Boy
by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne
Del Ray, 2018

Kill the Farm Boy is a delight. It’s funny, unexpected, clever. It’s a quick read without sacrificing any substance. The characters are wonderful—interesting, infuriating, and sympathetic by turns—the world is well-rendered and the plot well-paced.

Did I mention it’s funny? Like, really funny. I have high hopes for the series this book sets up.

Fair warning: you better love puns.

I read an advance reader copy of the novel and it came with a summary of the planned marketing and promotional strategy. The marketing for this book emphasizes a comparison with the work of Terry Pratchett. This offers a good way to explore what Kill the Farm Boy is really about.

Like Pratchett’s famous Discworld novels, Kill the Farm Boy is broad comic fantasy. But this comparison is misleading, as it elides an important aspect of Pratchett’s work. The primary goal of Kill the Farm Boy is to satirize the fantasy genre, especially to skewer the heroic lower-class-white-boy-turned-savior trope so central to the genre’s traditions. This is an excellent and necessary task. One which Dawson and Hearne accomplish with flare and obvious glee.

But the primary goal of Pratchett’s work was to satirize society. While he never shied away from poking fun of genre tropes, that wasn’t his main focus and always as a way to reflect on larger societal issues. Fantasy was the vehicle but it wasn’t the point.

Fantasy is most definitely the point in Kill the Farm Boy. This book has to be genre fiction in order to work at all. This isn’t to say there aren’t larger social issues examined but…

I’m in danger of both reducing the social commentary offered by Kill the Farm Boy and also reducing the genre satire offered by Discworld. It’s a matter of proportion.

Genres embody cultural traditions and reflect the values of their society, and thus satirizing a genre de facto satirizes the culture. Ultimately, all satire is social satire. However, despite their stylistic similarities, the goals of Kill the Farm Boy and Discworld are different—the one wants mostly to satirize the genre, the other uses genre as explicit social satire. They appeal for different reasons. I worry that the comparison misrepresents both.

I think it’s much more accurate to compare Kill the Farm Boy with The Princess Bride. Both are centered on a farm boy and both seek primarily to make loving fun of the genre. The style and sense of humor is more alike. Also, you can’t use the phrase “farm boy” in a fantasy context without everyone flashing back to the opening scenes of Princess Bride (“Farm boy, fetch me that pitcher.”) (Also: Worstly = Westley.) It’s a stronger comparison.

What I mean to say is this: If you love Pratchett, you’ll probably love Kill the Farm Boy. If you love The Princess Bride, you’ll almost certainly love it.

If you love puns and silliness and clever plots and fantasy that makes you laugh: this is totally the book for you.

It’s delightful. I can’t wait for the next one.

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