Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero by Dan Abnett
Published by Angry Robot / Harper Collins UK, October 2009
Review by Mark Yon.
It’s often said (and here at SFFWorld we’re hardly different) that humour is a very difficult thing to get right in a novel. What will make one reader roar with laughter will be greeted by a stony silence from another.
Such is true, and perhaps more so, with genre novels. For here you not only have to make it funny but make it so whilst also using the logical (or illogical!) parameters of SF, Fantasy or even Horror.
Not easy to do. And personally, there’s not many ‘humorous’ books that amuse me. I am, as they say, quite ‘hard to please’ in that department.
So, really: with a book where even the title/titular moniker of the book/lead character is a joke, called ‘Triumff’, what else am I to expect?
Well, actually, this was a greatly entertaining read.
Perhaps it should’ve been expected, though. Dan Abnett has written for Games Workshop / Black Library in the past, and it shows. The novels at GW have a reputation for being solidly written, not too deep, certainly not too reflective, but fast-acting and fun. So is Triumff. Here I was reminded of the BBC’s BlackAdder TV series, with a whiff of Douglas Adams, a sprinkling of Jasper Fforde and a dollop of Monty Python absurdity.
Set in the time of Elizabeth XXX, we discover that although the date is ‘now’, this is the Brass Age of Exploration and Adventure, where the power is not steam but clockwork. It is ruled by Queen Elizabeth and her Anglo-Spanish Alliance (Unity) with a combination of both military might and magic – sorry, magick, called the Arte. Thus the tale is firmly rooted in Elizabethan style England, with odd twists. There is a mix of ‘old’ with ‘new’. The clothes of the times still involve doublet and hose, yet at the same time there are guns and swords and comments about Visagebook and ThySpace, not to mention the singers Diseased Rascal and Lady Geegaw.
The tale is told through a combination of first person narrative, through the unreliable narrator, William (Wllm) Beaver, and third person. Wllm’s role here is relate the tale of the lead character. Sir Rupert Triumff (‘seafarer, Constable of the Gravesend Basin and celebrated discoverer of Australia’), a real Errol Flynn of a character, drinking and fighting his way through the book, a character with honour, a loyalty to the Queen and a highly tuned sense of self-preservation. Sir Rupert is given the responsibility of going undercover by Cardinal Woolly in order to stop the plot and save old Three Ex herself.
As you might therefore expect this is a fast-paced romp, which is held together by a range of characters. As well as Triumff, there is Mother Grundy, a lady who would give Granny Weatherwax a run for her money, who dashes to the capital after a premonition of things that are bad. Triumff is helped in his task by his loyal girlfriend Doll Taresheet and his batman-servant Agnew.
There’s some impressive action scenes, and some excruciatingly bad jokes and puns throughout. At times this can be a real disadvantage – in places Dan seems to try too hard – but in this shotgun approach generally for me there were more hits than misses.
If you can cope with characters called Eastwood-ho, whose key line seems to be “Are you feeling opportune?”, then you will enjoy this book greatly. The nature of these books is that if one joke doesn’t work, there’ll be another along in a minute, and in this matter Dan doesn’t disappoint.
Dan is a writer who tells a great tale and has the craft and experience to do it with panache. There are layers here in all the enhanced performance. It is funny, and at times very silly. Some parts actually didn’t work too well for me, and like many of these stories, if you think too hard about them, the implausibilities become obvious.
But that’s not really the point here. The plot is there to give the reader a great read, without contemplating too profoundly the meaning of the universe. There’s a nice sense of the absurd here and a general glee that makes the tale the polar opposite of, say, the dark cynicism of Joe Abercrombie and Steven Erikson.
So in summary, a great fun read, definitely not to be taken too seriously. It’s a book that swashes your buckles in a most entertaining manner, and will keep many a reader (unlike Queen Victoria) well-amused.
Mark Yon, October 2009