Doctor James DeGrande is slave to the Dark Lord. In the Empire of Dread, he is essentially head veterinarian, dealing with dragons, basilisks, dire wolves, wyverns, and other creatures and monstrosities. Most of which are visible.
This is what you get when you filter Terry Pratchett through Blackadder and G.K. Chesterton. The fantasy world is plenty quirky and the situations and side characters colorful and memorable. I actually had to put the book down once because I was laughing so hard. The Chesterton-esque wit comes to the fore in the author’s ability to take a tense situation and cleverly turn it on its head and show that it is not only tense, but also absurd. There is something very Edmund Blackadder about DeGrande frantically trying to stay ahead of the Dark Lord and his minions and keep his head. G. Scott Huggins gives us a book that is often painfully funny.
It isn’t all laughs and jokes amidst the gore and darkness. In this world the Dark Lord won the war, the elves ran away, and humans are largely slaves. Heroism isn’t entirely dead, though, and the story never gets bogged down in its more serious content. DeGrande’s actions are not entirely selfish even if a lot of what he does is struggle to stay alive. He genuinely cares about the veterinary practice he inherited and his almost-witch assistant. There are even moments of subtle defiance when he is able to undermine the Dark Lord’s minions. So, in his own, limited way, our protagonist gets to play the hero. And it is always a joy when he does.
While I didn’t care too much for the plot thread involving a unicorn, this is a very consistently enjoyable read. From surgery inside of a dragon to facing vampires, necromancers, trolls, and an invisible creature that is definitely not a weasel, All Things Huge and Hideous is a hilarious, worthwhile read that left me wanting more. I hope there will be a sequel in the not-too-distant future. Highly recommended for fans of Terry Pratchett, Blackadder, veterinary medicine, and fractured fairytales.
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