The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, H.G. Parry (Redhook/Orbit 978-0-316-45271-7 $26, 464pp. hc) July 2019.
The idea of a reader being able to bring fictional characters to life is hardly a new one – Jasper Fforde, Jim C. Hines’s Magic Ex Libris series, Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library, and, for younger readers, the Inkworld series by Cornelia Funke come readily to mind – but H.G. Parry’s twist in The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep is to add literary interpretation to the mix. The “summoner” of these beings is a former child prodigy (and still genius) academic with a particular fondness for Victorian literature: Dr. Charles Sutherland – Charley. Charley can’t help but add layers of meaning to the original fictional folk. (He is thinking, for example, of Uriah Heep as a threat to the social order. When inadvertently summoned, Heep consequently appears as a murderous shapechanger.) Rob, Charley’s older brother, is a level-headed lawyer. He’s helped his brother keep his abilities secret since, as a four-year-old, Charley read the Cat in the Hat into life. Rob is also used to helping Charley out of the occasional sticky situation when he has problems putting whoever he’s brought to life back into the story to which they belong. Things start getting more than sticky after they discover a hidden street where a bevy of literary characters secretly live, and it becomes apparent there is another “summoner” wickedly at work. Teaming up with Millie Radcliffe-Dix – a girl-detective/adventuress with plenty of moxie – they have to stop a malevolent “new world” from replacing the current one. Along the way we meet Sherlock Holmes, Dorian Gray, several Mr. Darcy, the Hound of the Baskervilles, and many more. The brotherly relationship – the story is told primarily from Rob’s POV – provides an interesting aspect, as does a lovingly portrayed Wellington, New Zealand setting. Do you need to be an Oxford PhD to enjoy it? Not at all, although the broader your literary knowledge, the more likely you will appreciate all the levels of this delectable debut novel. Part mystery, all magical, The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep is both amusing and perceptive; the novel entertains as it reminds us of the power of words and how fiction can influence real life.
Paula Guran has edited more than 40 science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies and more than 50 novels and collections featuring the same. She’s reviewed and written articles for dozens of publications. She lives in Akron, Ohio, near enough to her grandchildren to frequently be indulgent.
This review and more like it in the October 2019 issue of Locus.
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