|Simon R. Green: Drinking Midnight Wine|
(Paperback), ISBN 0-451-45867-2
After reading Drinking Midnight Wine you might think twice about following that impulse. Or if you long to be part of a different world, perhaps not.
Toby Dexter -- bachelor, bookstore drone and one of the most mundane people on the planet Earth -- follows that impulse. Toby just turned thirty and hates every minute of it. He spends most of his daily ride home from work daydreaming about a beautiful raven-haired woman who also rides the Bath to Bradford-on-Avon afternoon train. Toby fantasizes endlessly about ways to meet the woman, but never quite works up the nerve to really do the deed.
When a sudden storm lashes the countryside just as the train pulls into the Bradford-on-Avon station, Toby gleefully recognizes that fate just handed him the perfect opportunity to meet his dream girl, who boarded the train without an umbrella. But before Toby can proffer his brolly, the woman snaps her fingers, and Toby's world 'as he knows it' changes forever.
The woman disappears through a door at the side of the station that Toby could swear -- no, absolutely, positively knows -- wasn't there before. What's a lovestruck and overly curious fellow to do? What any other hero would do, of course: follow her.
Bye bye, Kansas -- er, Bradford-on-Avon. Toby finds himself in Mysterie, a fantasy world filled to the brim with gods, magical wonders and monsters. Mysterie co-exists alongside Veritie, Toby's own, familiar mundane world.
Unfortunately, Toby's entrance into Mysterie signals the beginning of a battle between Good and Evil. Suddenly Toby finds himself rubbing shoulders with a thunder god, battling zombies, taking bullets in the chest and falling in love with a goddess. Toby never realized being a hero and a focal point was such hard work -- or fun.
Unlike Green's other novels, Drinking Midnight Wine starts slowly. And while some of the bits of "history" that Green uses to illuminate Toby's very murky way also slow the pace a bit, they never bring the book to a complete halt. Indeed, they provide very necessary information for the reader.
Simon R. Green once again shows himself to be a master of using the everyday and ordinary to paint fantastic and engaging worlds. Green, like Stephen King, writes vividly engaging characters that, immortal or human, react like real people to the chaos swirling around them. Green's characters, whether it be his slacker hero or a reluctant X-Gen werewolf or even an extremely ditzy pack of hippies turned mice, never disappoint by being two-dimensional. They wouldn't dream of it.
Therein lies the charm of Green's books, at least for this reviewer. I love an author who isn't afraid to use popular culture to emphasize the contrast between the real and the unreal. I also love the way that Green reminds us that the absurd exists even the midst of the most cataclysmic confrontation between Good and Evil. That leaven of humor raises Drinking Midnight Wine from just another half-baked "ordinary Joe helps save the world" story to an excellent fantasy feast.
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