Barking Tom Holt


(Also known as: The one where we tried to make an animated featured image only to find out that it doesn’t animate unless it’s part of the post.)

Default Smiles Before we kick off, this requires a little storytime. I hadn’t read a Tom Holt book before, and when I picked up one with a pretty cool sounding back cover, I tried to be smart about it and look up a review. Someone mentioned his books are like Terry Pratchett’s, and I immediately said “That’s a big claim, can you back it up?”
Surprised Sharky 2 Did you really?
Default Smiles No, because I’m a bit gullible when it comes to people name-checking my favourite authors. I just said “Really? AWESOME, I’m buying it then.” So I bought that one, and this one we’re reviewing right now, even though the back didn’t tell me much.
Happy Sharky2 Which actually worked out great, because we didn’t like the first one with the cool sounding back cover too much. We were going to review that one but then Smiles wanted to give the other book a chance. And it’s a whole lot better.
Shocked Smiles It is! So we’re reviewing the better one because I like talking about things I like! I guess the other book might have suffered because it was part of an existing series, and while other reviews said it could be read on its own, it was really sliding into the trap of focusing on people we don’t care about and mostly ignoring the interesting people. Maybe they had focus in earlier books and there’s nothing much left to say about them. I don’t know.
Happy Sharky2 Barking, on the other hand, is a stand-alone book and is a lot stronger for it, because it feels more open with more things to explore. So imagine-
Angry Smiles That’s my line! A-hem. Imagine you’re a lawyer. Not a particularly good one. You have a lot of trouble billing clients because they’ll kick up a fuss and you really don’t want to deal with that. Divorced, dead-end job, not even doing well at your dead-end job, it’s no fun being you. But then things change when your old best friend (or rather school bully who for some reason decided to make you part of his gang for the rest of your life) comes into town, and then it’s really not fun being you.
Default Sharky He offers you a job. You stand up to him for once in your life and refuse. You find out you’ve been fired from your job. You have to go back and ask him for the job. This is just a small sample of how much the universe and destiny seem to despise you and don’t worry, it’s a running theme throughout.
Default Smiles The world the main character Duncan lives in, he soon realises, is one where unicorns, zombies, werewolves and vampires are very real things. And the two most efficient and competing law firms are run by werewolves and vampires. It’s not all lawyers of course. Some werewolves are also dentists. It’s a throwaway line with nothing to do with the plot but it did make me grin.
Sassy Sharky First look of the vampire law firm is amusing in and of itself. It’s called Crosswoods, the elevator is velvet lined and a little claustrophobic, everyone seems to be wearing too much eye-shadow, and you start snickering even while Duncan has no idea what’s going on. Another snicker-worthy moment is the fact that the vampires and werewolves call each other ‘bloodsuckers’ and ‘ambulance chasers’ respectively. Which is true enough, but in the context of them also being lawyers it’s pretty funny.
Happy Smiles It does initially come off as a standard ‘loser stumbles into adventure plot and falls in love on the way’ story, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but there’s actually a very cool exploration about werewolves in general. On the one hand, speed, endurance, strength, what’s not to love? On the other hand, wolves are a pack, and boy does the pack not want you trying to do anything outside of the pack. There’s a whole lot of ‘be careful what you wish for’ floating around, where you might get all the abilities that would free you from your claustrophobic life, but the price of it is you get trapped into a completely different kind of claustrophobia.


Surprised Sharky There’s also an interesting exploration into… feeling obligated? I don’t know how to phrase it but it’s that feeling you get where you really, really don’t want to do something but you let yourself get bullied into it because you’ve known these people for years. I don’t know if a lot of people experience this, but there’s a real possibility of being friends you people you don’t particularly like simply because you’ve spent so much time with them that they’re sort of a habit now, especially if you’re a bit of a tagalong and someone else is calling the shots. That’s Duncan’s reality. And unfortunately while he does try to break away from them after graduation like one in real life might drop contact with people they don’t have to talk to anymore, in the case of this book they come back. And he finds he hasn’t gained the backbone necessary to tell them he wants to live his own life, and they’re not listening in any case because they never listened, and he’s back to just nodding and tagging along.
Happy Smiles What we’re saying is we didn’t expect this book to take such an interesting, exploratory turn.
Default Sharky But again, it’s not all sunshine and roses, and I’ve got to talk about the things I don’t like. First things first, I don’t know if it’s bad luck and we managed to buy both books where he uses the exact same similies again and again, but you get the idea that the author has about three similies he made, found really clever, and then never let go of again. Secondly, I’m a little hazy on what the villain is actually… doing? I mean I get what she’s doing, but somewhere down the line I lost the plot of her villain-monologue because some of it didn’t make sense on first reading and at least one thing she said was really stupid. Thirdly the ‘love story’ is a little… weirdly rushed. Very love at first sight stuff which is fine but doesn’t quite gel with the exploratory tone of the rest of the book.
Confused Smiles … to be honest the villain doesn’t quite gel either. While we’ve been building this nice card tower using ‘consequences of your actions’ as a base, she’s stepped right out of the universe of ‘because I can’.
Default Sharky I mean in the book’s defence, Duncan is constantly portrayed as someone who is just waiting for an excuse to fall in love with someone, so from his side the love at first sight thing isn’t surprising at all, and it’s actually consistent with his character. But the girl on the other end sort of flips abruptly from ‘I’m subtly flirting with you’ to ‘hey want to get married?’ Maybe a little more insight into her character would have helped, because without that it does seem clumsy.
Surprised Smiles We do get to spend more time, character-wise, with his ex-wife because he moons over her so much.
Angry Sharky 3 God don’t remind me. It’s not that she’s clumsily done, it’s just that she is another one of my most hated character types. She constantly angry at Duncan for daring to ask questions when he’s confused, and when she gets proven wrong she deflects by getting angrier and accusing him of being stupid and childish and selfish and making all of that out to be the exact reason she divorced him. I mean. Wow. Dodged a bullet there, Duncan. But here’s the good news. He might moon over her a lot but she thankfully doesn’t physically turn up too much to be annoying. Some with the slightly confusing villain and love plot. Most of it rears its head in the last third of the book. Before that it’s all stellar explorations of independence and belonging, amusing descriptions and asides, and a heavy touch of mystery. So I still get to end on a positive note.
Sassy Smiles Oh please, don’t say that like you don’t enjoy ranting. You should have been a critic.
Angry Sharky 4 You take that back!
Surprised Smiles
Confused Sharky
Surprised Smiles Sorry man.

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