I vaguely remember back when Shrek first came out, with the trailers declaring something like, “The prince isn’t charming, the princess isn’t helpless, and the ogre is the hero.” It was a funny, clever subversion of the classic fairy tale tropes, and it told a good story. The same can be said of the movie’s first sequel, and a number of other stories. It cannot be said for Hero in a Halfling.
Written by William Tyler Davis, Hero in a Halfling: A Comedic Fantasy Romp (yes, that is the actual title, and the next two books in the series are Knowing is Halfling the Battle: An Arthurian Fantasy Romp and Sight Beyond Epik Sight: A Steampunk Fantasy Romp) seems like it was intended (and believed, by the author) to be a witty, comedic parody, sort of like the love child of Lord of the Rings and Discworld. But where DreamWorks made an ogre a hero, Davis just made the ranger mean, the elves unrefined, and the wizard sinister instead of saintly (because we all know Tolkien and Pratchett never did anything like “evil wizards” at all).
I’m reminded of when I read The Rest of Us Just Live Here. If I recall right, that was intended as something witty and clever too, but it just came across to me as little more than very, very snide. In a similar fashion, Hero in a Halfling felt more mean than funny. The “parody” aspect, supposedly “turning tropes on their head,” mostly lay in taking the usual virtuous characters of fantasy stories and making them non-virtuous. No noble elves to the rescue, no ranger friendly to the little guy, and the wizard is duplicitous and abusive out the wazoo, wearing at least three different faces under three different identities in his quest for power.
It’s like Davis wrote the story just to say, “Sorry, kids, it doesn’t work that way.”
There is an air-headed princess, but she’s a lesbian, which, that came out of nowhere, with both her and her girlfriend. Said girlfriend is the daughter of Snow White and a dwarf, as Prince Charming was gay. Both were supposedly showing interest in the main character, the halfling named Epik, and then suddenly, right at the end, the girls are kissing each other instead. Speaking of halflings, Epik has long been bullied by his fellow halflings, so clearly they’re not all virtuous either (and somehow he gets the nerve to stand up to the bullies bigger than himself, but not those of the same size?). Oh, and Epik’s role is actually pretty limited, for the most part.
Honestly, I empathized with Todder, a veteran city guardsman of surprising depth and intelligence, more than anyone else… and they kept having the duplicitous wizard scramble his brains to keep his secrets.
And as for the “humor,” that just kind of fell flat for me. Obvious wordplay, obvious quotes from famous franchises, naming every chapter for something from famous franchises… yeah, it just didn’t do it for me, ya know? It came out as pretty boring.
Not to say there wasn’t anything good in it. I rather liked the half-dwarf girl, Gerdy, though not so much the princess, Myra. Epik was an understandable character, and I liked the dwarf warriors, even if I couldn’t recall who was who most of the time. The plot turned out to be much more intricate than it seemed at first glance, especially the machinations of the villains. The trolls were properly horrifying, too, the ravenous monsters in the dark coming to take people from their beds and eat them.
Really, if Davis had stopped trying to be “funny” and just focused entirely on the story and the characters, this could have been a pretty enjoyable fantasy romp all on its own. Instead, it’s more mean than witty and more clumsy than clever. It wasn’t a very enjoyable read, and I only finished it out of sheer, stubborn will. My interest in the rest of the series is exceptionally low.
Rating: I’ll give Hero in a Halfling 4 stars out of 10.