Saturday, December 3, 2011

Book Review: Chuggie and the Desecration of Stagwater - by Brent Michael Kelley

Quick review - Highly original, well written, intriguing, and above all, fun to read!

  Summary from Amazon: In the first installment of Mischief Mayhem Want and Woe, Brent Michael Kelley unleashes the horrors of Desecration on Stagwater.
  Norchug Mot Losiat, Chuggie to his friends, is Brother Drought. When, in his rambling, he stumbles upon the remote city of Stagwater, he finds love, temptation, and treachery. He fights against men, demons, and his own nature to battle the sinister forces threatening the city. 
  But Chuggie? All he wants is a boat.

Paperback: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Omnium Gatherum Media (November 29, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0615571042
  • ISBN-13: 978-0615571041

I'm going to admit that, based on the cover alone, I probably wouldn't have bought this book. Not that the cover is bad, it's actually quite charming. But looking at it gives me the impression of a YA novel, with the crayon-like colors and the pumpkin-headed things approaching the horn-headed protagonist who appears to be chained to a tree. But the book was recommended so I gave it a go...and I am very glad that I did.

I don't know if Kelley does this, but when I write a book sometimes I imagine a particular actor, celebrity or even a friend as a character when I'm writing them. It just makes it play out in my head better. I also do this when I'm reading a book. So, I can't say for sure who Kelly had in mind when he was writing Norchug (Chuggie) but I can tell you who I imagined: Tom Waits. Except with horns. And it worked perfectly for me.

Despite being as old as the world itself, Chuggie is a pretty simple fellow. Unfortunately, he lives in a world full of ulterior motives. Chuggie's motivation is simple: he just wants to live a simple life...whatever that means for a living embodiment of a force of destruction. Stuff keeps getting in the way, like a town run by three evil bastards: Stagwater. Though Chuggie's plans there are rather simple (he wants a boat...he's already got the anchor) all the power players there have other plans for him. Some want him dead, some want to recruit him, a couple want to marry him. Chuggie doesn't want any part in this, but he gets pulled in  against his better judgement. 

Chuggie is an entertaining character, kind of an O, Malandro rogue. He's as old as the world itself, but still seems to fit into it somehow. As the avatar of drought, Chuggie is always thirsty and, if he wishes, can drain the liquid out of everything. He's not particularly comfortable with this ability, so he doesn't enjoy using it. Still, it's always there in the background, haunting him. He learned a while back that being drunk quiets the voice, so he made that permanent--which apparently he also has the power to do. Chuggie is therefore drunk at almost all points in the book. As such, people tend to assume he's just a common drifter, and he likes it that way. Unfortunately, those in the know see him for what he really is, or at least can tell he's more than that. 

The story is compelling: Chuggie tries to enter Stagwater to buy a boat for a trip to a warmer place. All he has is a bag of junk, the clothes on his back, and an anchor (in the shape of a lady) at the end of a chain he wraps around his body. Chuggie uses the anchor as a flailing weapon at several points in the book, which is hilarious because getting hit with an anchor WOULD HURT SO MUCH! If you're like me, you'll laugh out loud the first time he tosses the anchor into someone. Anyway, Stagwater lets him know he isn't welcome and tries to send him north, even using magic to try and compel him to go there. They definitely don't want him going south, or entering the town. So, Chuggie goes south just to piss them off. That's where he meets a woman living in the forest, a witch seemingly imprisoned by a magical spell, but attended by an army of animated scarecrows (no, they don't sing). Chuggie, who has been alone most of his life, falls in love with the witch and is motivated to free her. She sends him back to Stagwater to look for an item that can save her. And that's where things start to get complicated.

The most entertaining part of the book are Chuggie's dialog, both internal and external. Chuggie is creative with his profanity, using terms like "slime tits!" and "goat rammin frog dicks!" Chuggie's biggest flaw is that, despite his age, he's relatively naive and trusting. Despite living in a world full of people who don't care about anything but their own agenda, Chuggie takes people at their word a lot and that's what leads him to almost getting killed a lot. But it's understandable that he'd be that way. Chuggie is a simple creature: a force of nature, more or less. The world is far more complicated, and Chuggie's outsiderness makes him ill equipped to operate in it with the same level of guile as those around him. He gets along best with other characters with similar, simple motivations; two city guards who only care about their families, a child who just wants a home, and a conjurer who just wants to practice her art. I enjoyed watching Chuggie maneuver through whatever they threw at him, always on the very edge of losing everything. It was very endearing.

Despite it's kind of playfulness, the book has an undercurrent of darkness and horror. There are evil, unspeakable, disgusting things lurking in the woods north of the city. Terrible things happen in the city, too. Evil and destruction is present in all forms, from undead abominations, greed, lust, envy and revenge. Ironically, Chuggie is the only power player in the field who doesn't want to destroy anything. 

I highly recommend this book to fans of fantasy or horror. The world is compellingly built, giving just enough details about thing and place outside the immediate sphere of the narrative to make you want to hear more. The characters are attractive and deep. The writing is good. On the downside, there were a couple of parts where POV was murky, but it doesn't throw you out of the story. Chuggie, in particular, is one of the most endearing characters I've met since Tyrion Lannister from the A Song of Ice and Fire series. I couldn't get enough of him. And I think you'll enjoy him too.