A little preface: These are tough times for all of us right now, and I hope all of you are staying well or recovering, and getting by. Recently, I found myself self-isolating in that special limbo of “is this flu or Covid-19?” It was too late for a non-healthcare worker or first responder to get tested for either, so my doctor’s office said I’d just have to let the virus run its course. And that’s when I read today’s indie book spotlight:
The Purple Haze (Book I of The Western Lands and All That Really Matters), by Andrew Einspruch. (August 3, 2018; YA, Fantasy, Humor)
(Note: I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)
The Purple Haze just happened to be next on my reading list, and I couldn’t have landed on a better book. I was stressed, sick and anxious, and chapter one made me smile. Princess Eloise and Jerome Abernatheen de Chipmunk (an actual chipmunk, albeit an anthropomorphic one) became a staple of my nightly wind-down routine.
But this is more than a zany, hilarious book. Like Einspruch’s shorter work, The Wombanditos, The Purple Haze starts out amusing and the plot picks up steam as it goes, in this case replacing its endearing characters as its number one asset (which is no easy feat with such a funny, quirky and loveable cast). By its midway point The Purple Haze was getting very interesting and proved to be well-thought out, with a clever, neatly foreshadowed twist driving the action. And after that?
We have ourselves a page-turner.
The story follows Eloise Hydra Gumball III, princess of the Western Lands and All That Really Matters. She’s a shy homebody, hampered by compulsive behaviors and germaphobia referred to as her “habits,” and she’ll one day be ruler of their queendom, no matter how she–or her contrary twin sister Johanna–feels about it. When a reliable court seer’s visions reunites Eloise with Jerome, her childhood best friend, the jester-phobic, quick-witted chipmunk becomes a peculiar choice for Eloise’s champion. Which may not be a bad thing after all, as Eloise’s short trip to retrieve her traveling sister becomes a massive quest, and Eloise is about to need all the help she can get.
Talking (or singing) horses might distract from the strong world-building, but while you’re smiling, laughing or shaking your head, it’s there all along. References to the other kingdoms, some of which will be important, are never forced, thanks to the fact that they are humorous asides. In one, a long description of the history and bureaucraticly hampered build of the Adequate Wall of the Realms sets a scene but mostly provides amusement: “[Eloise’s] reaction was the same as everyone else who saw it for the first time: ‘Yeah, that’ll do, I guess.'” But an entire chapter earlier in the story (chapter 8) centers on the travels of a disgruntled king, describing his kingdom, the purple haze and his other options to better his lot in royal life:
“Had he been a little more personable, Doncaster might have found a wife (or husband, he wasn’t choosy) from the royalty of the other four realms…So, yes, the Western Lands were off the table in the making-his-kingdom-suck-less department.”
You never quite know what will stay as a funny aside and what will be important.
And that works, because by the time Eloise and her retinue end up somewhere major, the reader already has a memory and impression of the place, which can then be upended at any time. It’s not by chance that this story comes together so well.
All of this makes for a funny, skillfully told story that never lacks heart. Einspruch’s greatest trick, however, is crafting a book that becomes so much to the reader, yet leaves them wanting more–without being the slightest bit disappointed.
Like Jerome’s prognostication says, “you’ll be happy about it.”