Earth, Air, Fire and Custard by Tom Holt

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Earth, Air, Fire and Custard by Tom Holt

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Dave Martin
Reviewed by Dave Martin
Summary: A swords-and-sorcery parody based in an office near Starbucks and starring the feckless anti-hero Paul Carpenter. It's a major departure for Holt and well-worth reading. It's an action-packed, funny read from start to finish.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: January 2006
Publisher: Orbit
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1841492825

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Paul Carpenter heads into work for just another day at the office. However, "just another day" working at the office of J.W Wells is one populated by the sexually rampant goblin known as "Mrs Tanner's mum". Furthermore, his internship is with the annoyingly omniscient Professor Van Spee. Add to this his unrequited love for the junior clerk and it is obvious that this is a man having a bad day. Unfortunately, his day is about go from bad to worse as he fakes his own death, murders one of his bosses and ends up in a world of custard talking to his fridge.

As you can see "Earth, Air, Fire and Custard" by Tom Holt is not your average novel. It is not even your average fantasy novel. This is the third book involving the feckless anti-hero Paul Carpenter and is by far the most bizarre. Previous novels have been office-based situation comedies with a pinch of the fantastical thrown in. "Earth, Air, Fire and Custard" is a fantastical tale with a pinch of office-based situation comedy thrown in. This makes this particular outing a major departure for Holt, as no longer do we have the humour of office politics in a fantasy setting. Instead, we have a swords-and-sorcery parody that just happens to be based in an office near Starbucks.

Fans of the Paul Carpenter series may find that the initial chapters drag horrendously as Holt tries to explain the back-story for newcomers to Paul Carpenter's world. This is a minor irritant for someone such as me who is continuing the series and is au fait with the goings-on of the previous novels. However, it does allow the newcomer to acquaint themselves with the more subtle workings of the plot and they will be glad of the explanation. Particularly, as for the rest of the novel, Holt thrusts you headlong into Paul Carpenter's life as you are thrown from one tumultuous event to another.

As a standalone novel "Earth, Air, Fire and Custard" is an action-packed funny read from start to finish. Paul Carpenter is such a likeable, average and pathetic hero that you cannot help but root for him as he is plunged into yet another life-threatening ordeal. Carpenter is very much the "Average Joe" and this allows an empathy with him and his plight. Holt's writing is sharp and descriptive and despite the madcap nature of his plot, it remains remarkably easy to follow. By basing the entire story from Paul Carpenter's perspective, we are able to follow his ridiculous journeys effortlessly. Indeed, reading this novel is like being on a rollercoaster, strapped in and simply sitting back to enjoy the ride. You will not get rich characters and certainly not imaginative prose and imagery but you will get a satisfying read.

The ridiculous settings in "Earth, Air, Fire and Custard" make this a hilarious tale that mercilessly mocks and parodies mythologies, media and moments in history. However, this is not an entirely fresh and unique novel. In fact, it borrows heavily from Douglas Adams's "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" in terms of style and even plotlines. The idea of meetings with Gods, parallel worlds and even the use of custard are all lifted directly from Adams's series although I would like to think the usage is more a homage than a blatant act of plagiarism. What is more, Holt does take these ideas and make them into something more and perhaps even something better. For example, Paul Carpenter is a virtual copy of Arthur Dent yet is a much more likeable character with whom I share more empathy.

A lot happens in this novel yet it is a relatively short read. You will fly through. There is a huge cast of characters but despite this, the overriding theme is of Paul Carpenter's attempts to find love and life in an ever-changing world. You will love this novel if you like silliness. You will love it if you like action. This is the perfect read if you want to escape to a world were anything can happen but not one for those wanting a serious swords-and-sorcery epic rich with language and description.

You might also enjoy First Aid Kit Girl by Lynsey Rose.

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Buy Earth, Air, Fire and Custard by Tom Holt at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Earth, Air, Fire and Custard by Tom Holt at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Earth, Air, Fire and Custard by Tom Holt at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Earth, Air, Fire and Custard by Tom Holt at


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