Came for the chocolate eyeballs, stayed for the wacky story and the adorable talking fox. Dan Hanks’ Swashbucklers is unique, hilarious and very out there – some elements worked very well for me, some didn’t quite click with me personally, but it was definitely a fun read.
Many thanks to Caroline at Angry Robot for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 09/11/2021
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
SUMMARY: When Cisco Collins returns to his home town thirty years after saving it from being swallowed by a hell mouth opened by an ancient pirate ghost, he realises that being a childhood hero isn’t like it was in the movies. Especially when nobody remembers the heroic bits – even the friends who once fought alongside him.
Struggling with single parenting and treated as bit of a joke, Cisco isn’t really in the Christmas spirit like everyone else. A fact that’s made worse by the tendrils of the pirate’s powers creeping back into our world and people beginning to die in bizarre ways. With the help of a talking fox, an enchanted forest, a long-lost friend haunting his dreams, and some 80s video game consoles turned into weapons, Cisco must now convince his friends to once again help him save the day. Yet they quickly discover that being a ghostbusting hero is so much easier when you don’t have schools runs, parent evenings, and nativity plays to attend. And even in the middle of a supernatural battle, you always need to bring snacks and wipes…
OPINIONS: Comedic fantasy is always a difficult beast. It’s hard to find that right balance between hitting your stride in terms of humour and overdoing in the eyes of the audience – and I’m not an easy customer in that respect. A cynic by nature, I’m quick to roll my eyes at books that try too hard to be funny. So Swashbucklers never had the best starting conditions with me – but there were a lot of things that I did really like about the story.
My favourite element was probably Tabitha, the talking fox slash magic tour guide to the realms, who helps the motley crew of the book figure things out and find their way through their adventure. I also really enjoyed the concept of a group of friends who have gone through this huge thing together years ago, mostly lost touch in the intervening years and who are now getting back together in their middle age and are confronted with the impossible once again. Those dynamics worked really well and made the book stand out to me – because of their familiarity with each other, they are unafraid to call out each other’s behaviour, and it is refreshing to have characters who are not trying to impress but to function.
I did strongly dislike the ending – it felt like it ended in the sort of time paradox that is doomed to failure if you actually think about it, and if the story had actually cut two scenes earlier, the ending would have been far more final and satisfying. I think that is what ultimately made me decide on the three star rating – I was torn on whether to round up or down, as it was very much a case of me just not fully clicking with the book rather than there being anything to criticise in a more objective sense, but then I felt that the way the “post-credits” ending left things undid a lot and left me very grumpy.
Nevertheless, it is a fun book, and if you are more into comedic fantasy, eighties nostalgia or if you too love talking animal companions, you can find Swashbucklers on Goodreads here, and you can get your hands on your own copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).