01/05/2012. Contributed by Andy Whitaker
pub: TOR/Forge. 328 page hardback. Price: $25.95 (US). ISBN: 0-765-30406-6.
check out website: www.tor-forge.com
From the information on the back of the book’s jacket we are told that this is the twenty-seventh stirring saga in the chronicles of Xanth. This particular chronicle, ‘Cube Route’, is allegedly filled with ‘triple the turmoil, nine times the nonsense, and three to the third power times the thrills, chills and excitement of any ordinary fantasy adventure.’ It sounds exciting but having read the book, the only statement I think holds any truth is the nine times the nonsense.
The main character is Cue who has been given the nickname Cube as she is more than a little bit square and rather plain in an unattractive kind of way. Generally speaking, she is unhappy with her lot and desperately wants an all-round improvement which she believes will come about if she is made beautiful. The story opens with Cube meeting a demoness Metria who has a linguistics problem. It is D. Metria (a warning here as Xanth appears to be infested with puns, some good, most bad) who provides Cube with the idea to go visit the Good Magician Humfrey who will be able to make her beautiful.
On meeting Good Magician Humfrey, Cube is given the quest of finding a safe route to the hidden land of Counter Xanth. This quest is the main story thread for Cube and a successful completion would ensure Cube is suitably rewarded. To help her along the way, Cube picks up several companions each with specific abilities. These include a centaur, three seven year-old princesses who are good with magic, the demoness Metria, a potential boyfriend who is good with water, a dragon and two ladies who can step between dimensions. It seems that most inhabitants of Xanth have a magical ability. Cube's is the ability to call forth Nickelpedes. These are a type of insect that can take a nickel-sized bite out of just about anything Cube set them on.
The plot-line is very simple and linear. Cube regards all women as more beautiful than she is. Beautiful women have a devastating effect on the men folk of Xanth and can stun them with just a smile. Cube wants that power and is prepared to undertake the quest from Humfrey to find a safe route to Counter Xanth (Cube's route). Using the power of the three princesses to provide a trail to Counter Xanth in the form of a silver thread, the quest takes many turns that seem unrelated to the final objective. It does not take long for you to realise that this is a journey to develop Cube’s personality and to get her to realise that beauty is not everything. Cube's companions spend most of their time in a magic pouch and are only brought out to help with a problem. This leads to very little interaction between the characters.
This is my first taste of the chronicles of Xanth and I’m having trouble deciding on what type of audience it is aimed at. It is not a complicated plot, the characters have no real depth and I would expect it to be aimed at the young teen-age market. There is no violence until someone tries to rape Cube. This incident is completely at odds with the style of writing in the majority of the book. Thankfully, it is over quickly and the writing returns to the more usual ‘nicely-nicely’ style. All obstacles are easily overcome and everyone is very nice to each other. You do learn that there is a hierarchy of demons and it seems that one of the top demons does not want Cube to find the route to Counter Xanth. This is the source of all the major obstacles that Cube has to overcome.
If it was written as a book for teenagers, it is probably too long. I don’t think adults will get much out of it due to the rather simplistic style which allows me to sum up the book with the following points: All obstacles are easily overcome. Nobody gets hurt. Men are just simpletons when faced with feminine beauty. Everyone lives happily ever after. That’s about it really.
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