We’ve reached the finals of the second annual Self-Published Science Fiction Competition (SPSFC2), and my team will be reading all four of the seven finalists that we had not previously reviewed in the semifinals. And in an ironic twist, given the typical polarizing reactions to the subgenre, one of the few books that all three previous judging teams scored in the top half of their nine semifinalists was a comic space fantasy: Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days by Drew Melbourne.
As a comic space fantasy, the plot of Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days is all over the place. Percival Gynt is an accountant with a collection of gadgets that would make James Bond blush—including an Apple Watch that stops time to aid in action photography—who gets pulled into the investigation of a child abduction that may be the key to tracking down a universe-destroying doomsday device. He falls in with an alien cop who really enjoys shooting things and a magician’s daughter as they try to save the universe from Space Nazis (they don’t call themselves that).
I confess that I don’t often love comic space opera, because so much of the subgenre is an exercise in throwing itself at Douglas Adams—and missing. But I was really impressed with how Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days developed, and I count it among the positive surprises of the competition. Now Drew Melbourne is not Douglas Adams, to be sure. Not many are. Percival Gynt was never a story that had me laughing uproariously, for all that I did maintain a solid level of amusement, and particularly appreciated some of the running jokes. But whereas many comic space operas have only the thinnest veneer of plot on which to hang the jokes, Percival Gynt had a fairly cohesive central narrative driving the story forward, and it expertly used genre expectations to keep everything from feeling matter of course. And so when the jokes begin to wear thin, as they almost always do, I found I was rather intrigued by the story underneath.
While saving the universe is the main plot, the narrative constantly jumps back and forth in time and space, with flashbacks and asides aplenty. So much is to be expected. But while some asides are just one-off jokes, remarkably many of them feed into the main plot, and it’s not always clear which ones until the relevant plot development. This allows the story to have its cake and eat it too, with the one-off scenes remaining mere jokes and their plot-relevant cousins buttressing the central narrative under the guise of jokes, keeping the story from being bogged down with too much exposition.
Are some of the action scenes disorienting? Absolutely. Is the romantic subplot more than a tad thin? For sure. But disorientation and sketchy subplots are so common to comic space operas that these feel like mild annoyances more than glaring flaws. Not everything comes together perfectly, but to some extent, it comes with the subgenre. And the elements work tend to work really well. Both Percival and Officer Um have consistently entertaining perspective sections, and the major plot threads come together in a satisfying way that keeps the book from having to get by on clever quips and pop culture references alone.
Opinions on comic SFF will always vary based on the reader’s sense of humor, but I found Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days a pleasant surprise. The humor may not rise to the greats of the subgenre, but it stays amusing throughout, and despite a miss on the romantic subplot, the main plot comes together very well. The balance of humor and plot was just about perfect, avoiding the dual traps of a plot that’s solely a vehicle for jokes and jokes being mere varnish on a generic plot.
Recommended if you like: comic space fantasy.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Self-Published and Mundane Jobs. There is also a Demon Beast, but I think saying it’s genuinely an Angel or Demon may be a stretch. That said, surely either the Demon Beast or Void Faerie qualifies it for Mythic Beasts (hard mode).
Overall rating: 15 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.
SPSFC score: 7.5/10 for my personal score. The official team score will be determined in concert with my teammates.