TO HELL WITH THE HARP! (HELL RAIDERS)
Malcolm Twigg / 210 pages / 1st edition (October 7, 2011)
There are easier things to do than write humour. Winning the lottery, getting a berth on the shuttle, and having a ten-pound baby leap to mind. And writing humorous science fiction/fantasy? Forget it. Your chances of succeeding are even more minuscule. But, sometimes it works. And, when it does, you get something like To Hell with the Harp!. And author and reader thank their lucky stars.
That doesn’t mean publishers are going to buy. Here’s where the logic breaks down. To Hell with the Harp! wins a prestigious humour award, and publishers ignore it. Their loss.
Slap a good cover on it, give it minimal support, and you could have another Terry Pratchett on your hands. Okay, look past the not-so-hot cover art and dig into the good stuff.
Put a bungling demon in charge of the fires of Hell and you’re asking for trouble. Add one ineffectual angel and disaster is unavoidable. There is no way these two clowns are going to do anything but make matters worse. The last thing the situation needs is more players, but who is going to say no to the Devil and one seriously pissed-off Zeus? Mix in televangelists, constables, re-animated corpses, and various demi-gods and things are going straight to… well… hell.
It might sound like Twigg is encroaching on Good Omens territory, but To Hell with the Harp! is all his own creation. Twigg’s take on the end of the world avoids the darkness of Gaiman and Pratchett’s vision and goes for a more farcical slant. (Don’t get me wrong — Good Omens is rivetted forever in my all-time best list.) Both approaches succeed admirably and deserve to attract a wide audience.
To Hell with the Harp! is loaded with strange and irrepressible characters, with even stranger ideas. The predicaments they stumble into and create grow ever more impossible and ludicrous until it seems no one will be able to end the chaos and save the world.
Did I mention they have only so much time to repair the damage they caused? After that, bye-bye world.
Twigg handles the action well, and it’s a lot to control. Or, perhaps, it was out of control all along and he pulled it out at the last second. Either way, it’s a wild, hysterical ride and you’ll be strapped in for the duration, laughing all the way — ha ha ha…. There is as bit of a slowdown in the final pages, but it’s nothing you can’t live with; besides, you’ll be too caught up by then to care.
To Hell with the Harp! is like finding a previously unknown Douglas Adams or Ben Elton manuscript just when you think you can’t wait any longer for the next book. An early effort that was passed over. Not as polished, maybe, but give him a couple more novels and then make the comparison again.