Monday, November 13, 2017

Crap Kingdom (D. C. Pierson)

Crap Kingdom
D. C. Pierson
Fiction, YA Fantasy/Humor
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: Tenth-grader Tom Parking always dreamed of being whisked away to a magical world, the Chosen One fulfilling some ancient prophecy or another, maybe even earning a kiss from the requisite beautiful princess, but he figures the closest he'll ever get to leaving Earth is if his drama club stages The Wizard of Oz. He's just too ordinary for that kind of thing to ever happen to him.
Or so he thinks, until the wizard Gark turns up.
Now that he's been whisked away and named the Chosen One, Tom should be ecstatic, but the hard truth is that the kingdom he's supposed to save... really stinks. Literally, more often than not. It's a junk heap filled with cast-offs from Earth, entered through a portal in a donation bin behind the local K-Mart. The people are perpetually depressed. The king, who doesn't believe in prophecies or the treacherous hope they bring, hates him. The wizard's more likely to light himself on fire than cast a useful spell. And the beautiful princess is kind of a jerk. Plus this whole thing about traveling back and forth to another world has got to wreak havoc with his grades, and Mom's already threatening to make him drop drama class if he can't improve his report card. When the king offers him a job cleaning snot out of rat noses, Tom figures this whole "Chosen One" thing's more trouble than it's worth. He walks.
When his best friend Kyle is summoned to replace him, Tom slowly realizes that he's made a mistake... but is he really Chosen One material, or will trying to go back only make things that much worse in a kingdom already stuffed to the gills with misery?

REVIEW: Crap Kingdom takes several fantasy tropes - the Chosen One, prophecies, and portal adventures, among others - and gives them a hard, often hilarious twist. Tom's a typical awkward teenager, stewing in uncertainty-spawned pessimism; when he takes one look at the kingdom he's supposed to save (a place that doesn't even have a proper name, just a generic mumble-sound, because even the people have given up hoping things'll get good enough to bother with a name), part of him figures that it's just his typical luck that even a magical adventure out of his favorite stories turns to crud around him. His feelings only get more mixed when Kyle becomes the new hero; the two have been best friends since forever, yet Tom finds himself chewed up by envy and, yes, even a touch of peevish hate to see Kyle showered with success and accolades - and even given magical powers! - where Tom only found filth and rejection. His inner monologue is both amusing and accurate in its depiction of a conflicted teen who can't seem to get the hang of growing up or even his own emotions.
But there's a lot more to Crap Kingdom (as Tom dubs it) than just a bunch of sad-sack villagers and a half-baked wizard. Beyond the kingdom's magical Wall awaits a civilization that has all the trappings Tom or most anyone would think of in a magical kingdom, crystalline towers and magic armor and gleaming cities - but is in truth something far more terrifying. It's a challenge even a "proper" hero like Kyle can't tackle alone... though Tom's efforts hurt more than they help at several points, as he trips himself up. It's a credit to Pierson's writing skills that I found his trip-ups believable and occasionally touching rather than aggravating; Tom is, when all is said and done, still a teen, still trying to be Mature and become a Man without any real idea as to what those words mean in general, let alone what they mean specifically to him.
The story moves fairly quickly, with many fun lines and characters plus the odd touch of mind's-eye candy, but it's not all surface fluff; there's a nice, solid structure under the humor, with sometimes-dark themes of growing up and taking responsibility lending weight to Tom's tale. He pays for his flippant dismissal of Destiny many times over, in blood even, but even he remarks that he apparently only learns his lessons the very, very hard way. I read it in a single day, and only shaved a half-point for the final wrap-up, which wrapped up a couple loose ends but also felt a bit like a baited hook for a sequel that doesn't need to happen. Overall, though, I found it a very enjoyable read, particularly for anyone who loves fantasy - or anyone who has ever been an awkward teen themselves, simultaneously dreaming of storybook glory while being secretly certain they'd foul it up even if it did happen to them.

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