Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson & Kevin Hearne
Usually, any book that deals with cheese and has a talking goat will win me over. 2018’s Kill the Farm Boy has a talking goat, and it devotes many pages to thoughtful discussions of cheese. It looks deeply into the tropes of epic fantasy and fairy tales, then turns them upside down and inside out. Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne give us gonzo variations on conventional characters, lots of flatulence and poo jokes, and plenty of puns, all the while providing nudges, raised eyebrows and smirky grins from not very far on the sidelines.
Fair warning: It is difficult to review this book without spoiling the plot, but I will try. I fully plan to spoil several of the puns, though.
Somewhere on a farm in a distant kingdom a farm boy is approached by a flatulent sprite, who tells him he has a destiny. He is a Chosen One. The farm boy starts off on a quest to discover his destiny, along with a talking goat. Soon, the Chosen One has gathered about him a handful of rag-tag adventurers, who set off to have a quest. These adventurers include:
- Toby, a wizard who yearns to be a Dark Lord, and pines for excellent cheese, the kind served on those artisanal crackers, the ones they put those little seeds on.
- A tall, mighty-thewed woman warrior, Fia, who wears a chain-mail bikini, carries an enchanted sword, and longs for a comfy cottage and a nice rose garden.
- Argabella, who lives under a strange curse. She is a magical bard who wishes to be an accountant.
- Polto, a rogue, who is afraid of chickens, and is not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.
- Gustave, the aforementioned talking goat.
They are aided in their quest by Grinda the sand witch. I did warn you I was going to spoil some of the puns.
Kill the Farm Boy, the first book in the BOOKS OF PELL series, does have a plot, as our heroes… well, “heroes” may be a bit too strong. Our characters set off to save a king from an evil enchanter and remove a sleeping curse from a castle. Along the way they have epic-fantasy-like adventures: they meet a giant, they outwit a troll, they survive a trip through the Caves of Yore, and confront a wizard who wants them to respect the umlaut. Not all our folks survive the trip, and some of the character deaths are unexpected. For instance, I did not expect to lose one of the adventurers to a tragic smoothie accident.
The language is slightly distanced, snarky, irreverent and funny. Since the plot exists primarily to set up each of the set-pieces, the giant encounter, the meeting with Grinda the sand witch, the Caves of Yore and so on, the book lacked momentum. I also found it difficult to connect with most of the characters, which also made parts of the book drag. I like puns, and I appreciate punsters who are willing and able to contort their language into yoga-pretzel shapes in order to eke out a groaner, but sometimes all that work shows on the page and sometimes it’s just a pun too far. Here are a couple of examples:
“Why did she want [the wand] so badly?”
“To keep me stuck like this. It’s what Locher wants. It’s that sadism I was talking about. That pig isn’t happy unless I’m playing second fiddle in the magic department.”
“Then we’ll get her, my pretty,” Grinda said. “And that fiddle hog, too.”
“…Speaking of which, I hear our illustrious leader has acquired a cask of the good stuff, the latest vintage of the master, Amon Tiyado!”
Cries of disbelief greeted this news.
“No way!” the first man said. “A cask of Amon Tiyado?…”
If you like books that pun, that mock conventional tropes, that deal with high volumes of goat dung, sprite farts and rabbit vomit, you’ll probably have a good time with Kill the Farm Boy. It’s fun, and very cute in spots, but it is not a DISCWORLD novel or even William Goldman’s The Princess Bride (and it certainly isn’t Rob Reiner’s film version either). The book it reminded me of most strongly was the Harvard Lampoon’s Bored of the Rings. I got a kick out of Bored of the Rings, and out of Kill the Farm Boy, too. By the end, however, I was wondering what it would be like to read a book by these two bright writers where characters mattered more than the next joke.