I don’t really know where to begin with “The Adventures of Warren Steadmill”, which isn’t a bad thing, but rating a book that’s written as a type of parody to classic folktales is just hard! Rosenberg has a distinct style of witty and sarcastic writing that reminds me a great deal of the late Sir Terry Pratchett, even down to the occasional footnote. Everything is whimsical, and silly, and also vaguely serious with some rather dark undertones. But Warren’s tale is a simple one: one of a family growing closer, finding purpose in life, and growing up. Warren falls for a girl and to impress her, he gives up his life of unproductive luxury to become a table maker and win his fair lady’s adoration. But, of course, none of that really works out for him and Warren, poor, sweet, innocent and often dumb, Warren, is left to bumble through an adventure he barely understands that will eventually leave him a hero. Kind of?
The plot itself follows very similar folktale/adventure tropes of boy meets girl, boy goes on adventure to prove his manliness to said girl, bad things happen and girl is captured, boy must fight to save her and win her plus a kingdom because those things tend to go hand-in-hand. All of those points are there but Rosenberg’s clever writing flips those tropes on their head just enough to craft a tale that is both unique from the tried and true, but also left me in awe of just how good the writing is and how well Rosenberg uses both subtle satire and overt snarkiness to show that Warren is, in fact, not a hero. But I won’t say more because I don’t want to accidentally give anything away.
In fact, the one thing that really worked against this otherwise light, quirky, and humorous tale, was its length. It took me forever to get through this book because, like Pratchett, there are a lot of little side tangents that the characters and author go on to kind of show you how silly Warren, Birdcastle, and everyone on Fortune Island really is. But, unlike Pratchett, those tangents and asides just went on far too long sometimes and made the story seriously lag for me. I mean, if your own characters make the comment that something a character takes 45 minutes (in kindle format) to explain that another does in less than 30 seconds, then that’s actually not funny, and is a bad thing because it lost its charm for me rather quickly. I wanted this to be the fast past, silly and yet somehow poignant, story that Pratchett’s Discworld series is, and it could have been! It absolutely could have been if some of those chapters and sections had been cut back a bit.
Warren, his ambitions, and even all the colorful characters he meets (like pirates, mercenary actors, and witches) makes for a sweet coming-of-age young adult tale that could almost, ALMOST be suitable for middle-grade readers as well, as the heroes journey and just the overall silliness would probably be well suited for younger readers. Except Rosenberg uses some wonderfully complex vocabulary, and a few choice four letter words on occasion that would make this—plus the slow parts—unfortunately unsuitable for those readers, which is kind of too bad because I think they’d get a kick out of the story and enjoy its core, simple plot a great deal more than a young-adult reader. Still, if you know a middle-grader who is mature and can tackle the vocabulary, I say go for it! There aren’t any real frightening or overly violent scenes in the book, and each time sex comes up it’s very much a vague and almost fade-to-black type thing where an adult can fill in the blanks and maybe chuckle about it, but a young reader wouldn’t be able to really grasp it in a significant way.
To be honest, I struggled with this book when I shouldn’t have. The pacing and it’s very long chapters just kind of ground this book to a halt for me on many occasions, which is too bad because Rosenberg is such a talented writer! This is his first novel and while that shows a bit in those lags, you’d otherwise never know with how well written the humor and the characters are. Warren’s transition from this air-headed good for (and at) nothing son—at the start of the book—to the man he ends up being is handled exceptionally well. So, if you can handle the very slow pacing of the plot—the last 20% of the book really picks up, though—I’d highly recommend you read this book! But given I just had such a hard time getting through this at a reasonable pace, I’m giving it 3.75 stars but am rounding up and will be keeping my eye on the author’s future projects! And thanks to the author for providing me with a copy for review!
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