Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tarbaby Trouble

TARBABY TROUBLE by Phoebe Matthews
Reviewed by Bill Newman

At a writers' workshop recently one of the speakers said that a reader will always be hooked if the voice of the author is compelling. I'd not read much in the fantasy genre so I decided to test his theory and eagerly pounced on Ms. Matthews to ask her to let me review Tarbaby Trouble.

Knowing I was new to the genre, the author made me promise to toss the book out if I couldn't get past the first dozen pages. Every author says that, but two hundred and fifty pages and two days later I finally put it down. And such is the breakneck pace of the story that I wondered where those two days had gone.

Fleeing a Seattle criminal and his low-life associates, the heroine joins some friends on a wilderness trip. Separated from the group, and lost, she is found by a young man dressed as a barbarian. At first she thinks she has stumbled into the filming of a reality show that looks like Survivor meets historical reenactment. But alas, it is not a movie set and she finds herself the prisoner of Prince Tarvik. The young barbarian prince turns out to have a father modeled on Vlad the Impaler and an even more scary uncle and Machiavellian aunt who want to take over the kingdom.

Stripped of the 21st Century accoutrements upon which her normal life depends, the heroine (who selects the name Stargazer for herself) falls back on her knowledge of astrology to gain the upper hand. To say more would ruin the story, but suffice to say Stargazer will need all of her wits to thread her way through the plots and counter plots in the strange land, and to avoid being beheaded (yes, literally).

Oh, and did I mention that Ms Matthews endows the heroine with an outstanding sense of humor? It means the reader is treated to a cute, comical and at times satirical commentary on life in the primitive land. The humor starts on page one and keeps the endorphins flowing until the last page.

The plot is fiendishly clever (like the heroine) and all fits together like a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. The clues are all there and Ms. Matthews challenges the reader to keep up with Stargazer's furious pace on her journey of survival and self discovery.

By the way, once you reach the last 100 pages, don't plan on going anywhere until you've finished.

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