Plot: "The King Who Disappeared" boasts an inventive and engaging plot that incorporates a time jump, revenge taken centuries after an earlier act of vengeance, government corruption and street-level politics, all bound up in a quest plot complete with a treasure hunt. Some rich thematic questions about the nature of leadership rise up naturally from all of this. The story would benefit from a slower pace, less abrupt ending, and more convincing, lived-in detail about this world.
Prose/Style: The pared-down prose varies between a tight crispness, a fabulist simplicity, and too often a thin and somewhat generic simplicity. Key scenes, especially those involving action or combat, read like sketches, and readers often are quickly told about important or emotional events without being invited to experience them along with the characters. This is especially true with the book's material about a working class struggling under a corrupt ruling family's "wage restrictions."
Originality: The book's main thrust is fresh, even inspired: A fantasy interrogating the difference between a king and a president, asking whether violent revolution could truly improve the lives of the populace, and whose plot turns cleverly on the importation of peat moss. But the world of Gundarland and the city Dun Hythe is thinly detailed, exhibiting only a few distinctive facets, like its sneeze Big Bang and its Troll Patrol. This lack of specific or striking detail limits reader engagement.
Character Development: Quense wittily reduces his novel's heroes to archetypes and then to an almost abstract force for justice sweeping across Gundarland to confront the characters who truly command his attention: the villains. These include a centuries old king "dwelf" king, his two scheming and comically greedy offspring, and an undead halfling vicar figure, all scheming against each other in the book's strongest scenes. Also quite compelling is the meritorious bureaucrat who must team up with the Godmother crime lord for protection and to right some wrongs. The characters would shine brighter, perhaps, if their schemes were more complex or faced greater complications.
Date Submitted: April 06, 2019