Half-goblin boy Joseph Grubb lives in Fayt, a bustling trading port where elves, trolls, fairies and humans live side by side. Fed up of working at the Legless Mermaid tavern, Grubb dreams of escape - until a whirlwind encounter with a smuggler plunges him into Fayt's criminal underworld. There he meets the Demon's Watch and learns of their mission to save the port from a mysterious and deadly threat. Can Grubb and his new allies uncover the dark plot in time, or will they end up as fish food in Harry's Shark Pit?
Based on The Demon's Watch, his debut novel, Conrad Mason is most definitely an author to watch out for in the future. Long time readers of The Book Zone will know that I do not read a great deal of what I would call traditional fantasy - magic, trolls, goblins and the like, set in fantasy worlds. Apart from The Lord of the Rings, which I have read many times, I have never gelled with traditional fantasy stories for adults, even though I have tried many of the masters of the genre. However, this book had been sitting on my To Be Read pile for some time, and having read a variety of books in other genres I felt like something different and took the plunge..... and I loved it! Yet again, David Fickling has struck gold!
I think my biggest problem with adult fantasy is the time spent world-building. I just do not have the patience for pages and pages of background information about a world and its flora and fauna. And this is exactly why I had no problem at all with The Demon's Watch - like the best writers of children's and YA fantasy Conrad Mason manages to build and populate his fantastic world without slowing down the fast pace of his story with lengthy, yawn-inducing info-dumps.
For me there are two things that really make The Demon's Watch: the characters and the dialogue between them. The two combined make for a hugely entertaining and comic fantasy story that will have young readers enchanted. Conrad Mason has filled his story with characters to rival those in any of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. There is orphan Joseph Grubb, half human and half goblin, as as such is on the receiving end of many a bigoted remark, especially from his uncle who works him to the bone in his tavern. Joseph's lot is not a happy one, and longs for a happier life, filled with adventure. Through a series of incidents he finds himself falling in with The Demon's Watch, a rag-tag bunch of watchmen who try to keep some kind of order in the port of Fayt. Captain Newton, their leader, oversees a motley crew made up of a magician, a headstrong and impulsive girl, an elf and a pair of trolls. Sometimes their escapades come across as an calamity of errors, but between the laughs you can't help but care for them and hope that all turns out OK in the end.
For a debut novel this is something special - Conrad Mason is obviously a very gifted storyteller. He knows exactly how to engage his readers and keep their attention for the whole story. He weaves a multitude of twists into his tale, and young readers will delight in rooting for their heroes as the machinations of the rather nasty compliment of villains unfold. I for one cannot wait to continue my journey with Joseph Grubb and his new-found friends.
My thanks go to the lovely people at David Fickling books for sending me a copy to read.