Double Negative
Serendipity Trilogy
Book 1

Author: Robin Gilbert
Pendragon Press
RRP 7.99
ISBN 0 9538598 4 3
Available 31 May 2005

Following a very unpleasant encounter with a band of brigands, Bhark Lhoudly and Whindy the Brave finally make it to Hops Castle, tired, hungry and naked. They are befriended and rescued by Cedric Beansprout, a rather inebriated castle guard. The boys however are not out of the woods, well they are but you know what I mean. Murder is afoot in Hops Castle, and by way of the usual hilarious misunderstandings, that usually end up with a vicar with his pants round his ankles, in an English farce, the boys are implicated. Can Cedric help the boys, indeed can he stay sober enough to remember who they are, or does their salvation lay in the beautiful but enigmatic Poplar who takes them under her wing...

Double Negative is the first novel by Robin Gilbert and as such should be treated with some respect, it's difficult enough to get anything published and so the release of your first book must be a nerve wrenching experience. Added to this, Robin has written a comedic novel, a difficult genre to pull off successfully. So does he succeed? Well yes and no.

I guess when you do your first novel everything that you can think off as a good idea is thrown down on the paper. Not a bad idea and it's the reason that publishing houses have editors. The main problem with Robin's book is that it doesn't look like his editor reined him in enough. As a first novel, it is a valiant try, the more so as he chose a comedy. But the book is over long with many of the jokes becoming repetitive. The plot doesn't really click in until nearly a hundred pages into the book, giving readers little more that a series of amusing anecdotes as the boys adjust to life in the castle.

This is a shame as the book is well written, he has a nice easy prose style, which bounces jauntily along, with nice descriptive passages which gives the reader a real feeling for daily life in Hops Castle. But there are only so many willie jokes that one can find funny, and believe me there are a lot of them. Also, there is a repetition of word play along the lines of "he felt happy, but happy didn't mind as she was used to being felt up." Funny the first time but not up to Douglas Adams use of word play.

On a good note there are some funny and interesting minor characters. I especially liked the woman who daily finds more intriguing ways of committing suicide, whilst failing miserably at every attempt, much to the amusement of the towns folk. The animals also play a part in the story with Ned the sheepdog, Wallop the horse and Dangerous the cat, all trying to help the boys. These characters are introduced a little at a time which does create interest in the reader as to their identity and motivation.

If you are stuck waiting for the next Terry Prachett book to come out you could do worse than reading Double Negative, though at 284 pages I can't help feeling that if 80 of those had been cut it would have produced a much tighter, more enjoyable novel. Still, I look forward to reading his next one.

Charles Packer

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