The Folly of the World by Jesse Bullington

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The Folly of the World by Jesse Bullington

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: After a lapse with his sophomore attempt, this is a return to this author's bizarre, ribald pseudo-fantasy adventures.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 528 Date: December 2012
Publisher: Orbit Books
ISBN: 9780356500881

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It is the 1420s, and a lot of what we now think of as The Netherlands is underwater. Crossing the deluge is a most unlikely trio – a posh man seeking something with the help of the others, including a girl who has survived his sometimes-fatal test, and a manic fellow fresh from saving himself upon the gallows, who might or might not have been down to hell in the interim. What that quest is, and how it will lead to nightmares, deaths galore and a lot of other interesting parts of the story, is for you to discover, in this absorbing cross-genre piece.

You can never really say Jesse Bullington is a fantasy writer, although there really is no more accurate alternative. Once again an encyclopaedic research period seems to have conspired with his flamboyant imagination to create a work of fiction, that on the whole is more mystery/adventure than straight fantasy, although there is something definitely fantastic involved somewhere within the rich, florid plot. How this man takes himself from his American home and brings himself and his readers so vividly into mediaeval mainland Europe is beyond me.

His last book seemed for me to be too interested in provocation, with its quantity of sex and death (and both together, quite often). Here he settles into something much more akin to what I would expect. He seems to take an unusual facet of life (the life aquatic) and use that as a base for his story – and with the feisty young Jo, his characters. But he proves there is a lot more to the plot, beyond the point at which I have to stop referencing it, by creating an entire society for his main cast to fit into. It's no wonder that aforementioned research references paintings, food and clothing as well as the history of the times Bullington uses here.

There are a couple of false strides – the politics is a little unexplained, and at times the length of the book seems to sag a little, but what we do get is almost as the doctor ordered. The mature themes and events and language are again delivered in echt-seeming style, with a Scrabble master's vocabulary – sometimes one a little inaccurate, with one woman being called a trull a hundred years before she should be. The fruitiness adds to the comedy here, and the sense of humour certainly came across more successfully than that which I remember reading from Bullington before.

What we have then is a successful third variety on this author's brilliant ability to bring the times and places to life with his manic, violent, earthy stories. This will be shelved as fantasy, but in being so definitely our neighbours' past, once removed, it does have a chance of breaking out of its genre classification. You might disparage Bullington, saying his mediaeval fantasias are his shtick, but they are too rich and literary for this to merely be a shtick. This dark and memorable novel, complete with its dark and memorable characters, is among the more distinctive and classifiable reads around.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Bullington started his career here.

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