Book Review: Hunt for the Troll – Mark Richardson

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“It all starts when a twenty-something software programming genius is visited while he sleeps by a mysterious figure referred to as the Troll. “We’re going to change the world,” the Troll tells the narrator.

 Soon we’re introduced to an assortment of off-beat characters: a red-haired, one-eared, female temptress; a pot-smoking tech reporter; a computer-generated Halfling; and a few venture capitalists who are all interested in finding the Troll. Mostly taking place in San Francisco, Hunt for the Troll is a quirky hybrid of mystery, pulp, and modern fairy tale.”

  Hunt for the Troll is an entertaining read. It’s intelligent, extremely well crafted, and undoubtedly unusual, with a clearly defined plot and set of very intriguing characters. A quirky blend of traditional genres, including mystery of the vaguely whodunit variety – think Agatha Christie, but with extra tech and potentially also leather jackets – and urban fantasy, and its masterful and consistent mix of technology and mysterious hand-wavy weirdness fits the bill nicely. Urban fantasy can be something of a dicey genre, in that everyone and their grandmothers have a different idea as to what it should include, but Hunt for the Troll, if nothing else, should definitely be counted.

The world building aspects, and established setting were major draws for me, as I found the mix of real-world scenarios, dodgy magic, and artificial realities intelligent, intriguing, and just plain fun. Hunt for the Troll bridges worlds with skilful, admirable ease, retaining cohesion in its storytelling when it’s often easy, in a similar situation, to produce something a tad fragmented. As a sincere advocate of the urban fantasy genre, I think that it is assured, convincing, well crafted, and unique, a fresh new take upon an existing and occasionally predictable pattern.

Ultimately, however, it was the unique characters that compelled me to rate it as highly as I have. Urban fantasy novels often have a few recycled stock tropes that might be amusing for the first few lines, but often fail to delight, whereas in Hunt for the Troll, each and every character is three-dimension, well defined, and perfectly unique, in appearance, personality, and attitude. They’re varied enough to be realistic, and yet have enough common ground to plausibly be acquainted.

However.

(You know me, there’s always a ‘however’)

I found the narrator and main character, a genius software programmer – of course – to be about as unique as a tomato. His narrative voice added little to, well, anything, his personality and attitude woeful at best – although consistent – and his faux-humble posturing frequently irritated me. He felt like a Mary Sue, and in such an assured, and, dare I say it, excellent novel, he stuck out a mile.

I often have a few objections to make about the main character, but this went far beyond the occasional irritable huff.

Allegedly a genius in his field, he oscillates wildly between employment and unemployment without a care in the world, suffering very few negative consequences, earns a fortune from a millionaire for doing genuinely nothing, and is in possession of the worst work ethic I’ve ever seen. But, of course, he’s a genius, and everyone loves him – except, of course, his boss, who naturally misunderstands his delicate sensibilities – so all of the above makes him cutely eccentric, rather than obnoxiously odious.

Phew.

And that’s without even considering why it is that every single woman in the novel manages, in the space of roughly an evening, to turn into a nymphomaniac obsessed with taking the man to bed. All things being equal, he seems like a nice enough guy – when he’s not working – but there’s little to explain why all these very different women suddenly decide he’s better than sliced bread, and that all they want from him is, well, sex.

However.

I enjoyed Hunt for the Troll. I really did. The plot drew me in, the characters are exceptional, and the setting that they inhabit better still. It’s a masterful novel, an excellent foray into urban fantasy, and a damn good read. But there were aspects that I did not enjoy, and that’s not something I can ignore. As such, I gave Hunt for the Troll only four out of five stars.

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