Piers Anthony‘s Centaur Aisle is one of his many Xanth books — Xanth being the magical land these stories are set in, filled with dragons, ogres, and really bad puns. Often the puns provide clues to the riddles and plot twists and sometimes it takes a while until you have enough information to realise how certain puns will effect the story. Other times the puns form the basis of the flora and fauna of Xanth. For instance, a cocoa tree provides hot chocolate drinks.
I wonder how many potential readers will stop reading the review right here and decide they’ve learnt enough? :)
You can apply this review to pretty much any of the Xanth novels, since they all follow very similar paths: take one teenage boy, give him some friends, one of whom will be a stand-off-ish male, another will be a rather gross male, such as a rotting zombie, and another will be a young and voluptuous girl. The main character will then set out on a quest for something, which really could have been achieved much more easily with a few moments of thought, and then spend the next 200 pages accidentally groping the female characters, looking up their skirts, and watching as all the other characters pair off in some incredibly species-bending ways.
Before we go any farther I have a confession to make of something I did as a teenager. I don’t know why I put it like it’s a bad thing, since there was really nothing wrong with it, and at one stage all of my other male friends did it, too. Ok, brace yourselves; here it is: I used to play Dungeons & Dragons role-playing games. Phew… That was hard. The reason I bring this up is because the Xanth series reminds me of particularly bad games with uncreative dungeon masters. I can remember some pretty scary school lunch breaks back in the late 80s…
Uh-oh, I think I’m having an acid-wash flashback:
Me: “Well, can I talk to the monsters?”
DM: (Evil nerdy chuckle) “Do you want to try?”
Me: “Umm… No… Hey, I think I have a spell for this!”
(Dice get rolled… Dungeon Master scowls).
DM: “Ok, you defeat them. You keep walking … you come across another group of monsters …”
And that’s what the Xanth stories are like, though instead of monsters all the time, sometimes it’s a rather obvious puzzle that the hero will consider before finally arriving, painfully slowly, at the solution to get past it. There is a kind of game show feel to those sections and I can imagine it segueing into a sort of fantasy version of The Price Is Right. Which box should our hero pick, audience? Complex and high-brow it ain’t. But what would you expect from the author of The Magic Fart?
Although I am in no way politically correct, these books objectify women in a way that is offensive even to me. Every woman is judged by her “assets” and every page — or at least every other page — talks about one of the female character’s legs or breasts or panties. Yes, panties, in a fantasy novel. It’s like some kind of voyeuristic erotica aimed at 14-year old boys.
However, there are some good points, I guess. There is almost no graphic violence, and many of the dilemmas and potentially violent encounters are solved in a way that creates harmony between the opposing parties or fixes some deep-seated need of the aggressor, thus rendering them non-aggressive. Other times they may be tricked into retreating. Also, the plots of the Xanth novels have a few twists to them, and there is a bit of variety in the male characters.
Oh, and if you are a fan of bad puns, then these are the books for you! Two stars, because I feel generous.
Mark Pawlyszyn, one of our earliest guest reviewers, has always tended toward the creative side of life and had careers in music and painting before settling into his current position as the owner of Unique Images Photography. Mark has visited and lived in twelve countries and can ask for directions to the bathroom in several languages. He currently lives in Canada with his wife, Sherri.