Barking by Tom Holt

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Barking by Tom Holt

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: An interesting sounding concept which is buried under some dull story telling and a virtually total lack of amusement value for this reader, but if you've enjoyed Holt's books before, are a fan of Robert Rankin or are a lawyer this might be the book for you!
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 416 Date: February 2008
Publisher: Orbit
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1841492865

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I've tended to avoid comic fantasy in recent years. Part of the reason for this is that no matter how hard I’ve tried, I’ve always failed to find anything that could match up to Pratchett and Gaiman’s Good Omens for comedy value. I tried Matthew Thomas’ Before and Afte, which turned out to be a pale imitation of Good Omens. I was encouraged to try Robert Rankin on the recommendation of friends, but didn’t find his brand of humour to my taste.

I am, however, a big fan of comedy. In films and television shows, I do tend to go for things that will make me laugh rather than provide me with high drama. In books, I’m still a slave to an amusing sounding concept, as I like to read for entertainment, rather than for knowledge.

Tom Holt’s Barking sounded as if it could be the kind of concept I would enjoy. Duncan Hughes is a nondescript little man, working for a company of lawyers in London, although not terribly hard. He struggles through the working day and goes home at night to a lonely house with no obvious friends or hobbies. His life is almost completely devoid of any ambition beyond getting the Allshapes account to balance.

This all changes when some old school friends come back into his life. Luke Ferris invites Duncan to join his law firm; a chance Duncan accepts before discovering that this condemns him to spend the rest of his life as a werewolf. This in turn puts him into direct opposition with his ex-wife and her law firm, who are all vampires.

This is where the concept had its greatest hold on me. It’s a wonderful thought, especially for someone who used to live in London; werewolves and vampires battling for control of the law business and of the night. The vampires are hampered by not being able to go outside in sunlight and the werewolves by a compulsion to chase foxes, HGVs and a unicorn, especially under the full moon. It’s a wonderful idea and once things had got to this point, I was sucked into the story and willing it onwards.

Sadly, this was to be as good as things got. The concept is a wonderful one, but the actual story was as dull as Duncan Hughes himself. There seemed to be too much focus on the more mundane activities of being a werewolf or a vampire, rather than on the conflict that exists between them. Even when this conflict did come more to the fore rather than simmering away in the background, it was done in a way more akin to lawyers than the creatures they had become. Sadly, this is far less interesting than the idea promised.

This is very much the general theme of the story. Many of the things you would expect to find in a story such as this are present, but they don’t seem to be as exciting as I thought they would be early in the book. There was a chance for this to become a really exciting action packed book, but it turned into a limp excuse for an action book. That said, I suppose this is only to be expected when your main character is as dull as Duncan Hughes and the supporting cast are pretty much all lawyers.

The humour I was expecting from this being a comic fantasy was largely absent as well. There were a couple of lines that raised a brief smile, but those were of the kind where the jokes were so bad, even the author felt the need to apologise for them afterwards. Maybe this is a work of comic genius and my sense of humour just isn’t compatible with it, but I just didn’t see any really comic moments at any stage.

he one saving grace to the book is that Holt’s writing is quite simple and fairly fast flowing. Even though there wasn’t a lot of action, events flowed quite nicely into each other and the style of writing did encourage me to read more on occasion than the entertainment value of the story warranted.

If you’ve enjoyed Holt’s books before, or if you are a fan of the likes of Robert Rankin, this could be an enjoyable book. I loved the idea, but not the execution of that idea, but as a newcomer to Holt’s work, it is possible I have missed some of the nuances that make him popular. However, from a personal point of view, I finished this feeling slightly let down, as I expected more from the idea.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For comedy genius Pratchett is difficult to beat although Bookbag thought that his latest Making Money was not his best. We've been quietly impressed too by Christopher Moore and his Lamb comes highly recommended.

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