Tuesday, August 28, 2012

PBR: Vale of the Vole (Piers Anthony, 1987)

After reading Ogre, Ogre, I decided to skip ahead in the Xanth novels a bit, following the Smash Ogre family line. This one has three heroes, Esk Human/Ogre (son of Smash Ogre and Tandy Nymph), Chex Centaur/Winged Monster, and Volney Vole. Each of the three (independently) decide to visit the Good Magician Humfrey to solve their various problems. On the way they meet each other, and when they arrive discover that Humfrey and his entourage are missing.

Two of the three have rather simple problems. Esk wants to get rid of a demon living in his tree-house and Chex wants to learn to fly (she is winged, but unable to lift herself). Volney has the biggest problem; a horde of demons has ruined his homeland, the vale of the vole. The trio informs King Dor of the Magician's disappearance. Since the search could take some time they decide to eschew the Magician's help and assist Volney, whose problem is quite pressing.

Like many of the Xanth novels, this one has an environmental theme, in that the demons have destroyed the vale to eradicate a pest, but have merely succeeded in making the problem worse. The main narrative theme however is also a standard one for Xanth; self acceptance in the face of intolerance. Both Esk and Chex are outsiders. Biracial if you will. Esk is more than that, having human, ogreish, nymphish and fiendish blood. Chex is the foal of a centaur and a hippogriff. Esk is accepted by his parents, but not by the ogres or fiends. Chex is accepted by the winged monsters (once she proves herself), but shunned by the centaurs. In order to help Volney they try to enlist the forces of their various peoples with varying results. Volney's difficulty is more class-based, as the voles are the upper echelon of the burrowing creatures, and he is met with fear and anger from those in the lower echelons. Ultimately they bring together a motley bunch to face the demons, including two creatures from the world of the hypnogourd.

One of the nice things I am discovering is that you do not have to read the Xanth novels in order, one at a time. This is the 10th book (Ogre, Ogre was the 5th) and Piers reminds you of what you need to know about previous books without overstating everything. While you would want to read the Harry Potter books in order, Xanth is more like the Forgotten Realms, having a common locale and many major characters, but ultimately is a setting for stories. This one is also the start of a trilogy, followed by Heaven Cent and Man from Mundania, so it is not a bad place to drop in.


Timothy S. Brannan said...

It has been years since I have read a Xanth book. Been meaning to go back and read some, but have not gotten around to them.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I think they are a lot of fun. I was not a reader as a kid, and I guess Xanth is falling into my catch-up reading list.

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