Thursday 21 February 2013

Review: The Book of Doom by Barry Hutchison

The second hilarious book in Barry’s AFTERWORLDS sequence – comic fantasy perfect for fans of Pratchett and Douglas Adams.

There’s panic up in Heaven. They have mislaid the BOOK OF DOOM – the most important object in existence. Oopsy.

They think Satan might have stolen it, the sneaky little devil, so to save the world – plus, you know, quite a lot of embarrassment, fifteen year old Zac and his angelic guide Angelo are sent to retrieve it.

Sadly directions aren’t Angelo’s strong point and they soon find themselves just as lost as the book, wandering through Afterworlds such as Valhalla and Hades and encountering some colourful characters along the way…

Can the hapless pair make it to Hell and back?

If I come across as something of a Barry Hutchison fanboy on this blog then I make no apologies for this at all. It's a simple fact that I love everything he has written so far. His Invisible Fiends books are definitely amongst my all time favourite children's series, and I loved The 13th Horseman, the first of his Afterworlds books. I have also loved the Invisible Fiends and Afterworlds short stories that Barry as released through his own website. I therefore look forward to every new release with great anticipation, sort of knowing that Barry will not let me down. Does that makes sense?

The second Afterworlds book is no exception to this. Last year I started using Goodreads, and giving starred reviews to every book I read. I don't use any kind of rating system here as it feels a bit too like I'm doing my day job, but Goodreads has its uses. Needless to say, I've awarded The Book of Doom the full five stars. And I know I'm not the only person who loves these books. In my review of The 13th Horseman I mentioned that the book reminded me of Terry Pratchett's early Discworld novels, and I know that many other reviewers have also drawn similar parallels. Barry's fellow authors are also stepping in with similar quotes: Joe Craig proclaims in The Independent: "call off the search - we've found the new Terry Pratchett" and Philip Ardagh added to Barry's Facebook page: "I'm with Joe Craig on this one. I think I've even said it (somewhere). You're the logical successor to Pratchett." Praise indeed from a pair of very talented writers.

The Book of Doom is set in the same Afterworlds universe as The 13th horseman, but it introduces us to a brand new set of characters (although some favourites from the previous book do make a cameo appearance, but I'm certainly not telling you when and how). Fifteen-year-old Zac lives with his senile grandfather who hears voices, and the only way the two of them can get by is for Zac to steal. And he is blinkin' good at it too. Naturally, he only steals from those who can afford the loss, and invariably nicks stuff that has already been stolen from someone else. Unfortunately, his activities draw him to the attention of a couple of celestial beings - a certain Gabriel and Michael - who arrange for him to be killed so that they can blackmail him into retrieving The Book of Everything, aka The Book of Doom (depending on your heavenly or hellish leanings). Zac, who much prefers to work alone, is reluctantly paired with the annoyingly cheerful and optimistic Angelo, a geeky Jesus (and Incredible Hulk) loving inhabitant of heaven who has the power to take them across the barriers between the realms. 

Unfortunately for Zac, Angelo's powers are more than a little unreliable and instead of hell the pair find themselves in a very different 'afterworld', populated by the kind of men you wouldn't like to take home to meet your mum (unless she was a beer-swilling, foul mouthed Valkyrie, that is). I really do not want to say a great deal more about the plot as I am wary of spoiling things for you. There are a number of twists and turns, some of which you may see coming (although a chat I had with Barry showed that he was deliberately dropping a few hints in places), but if you like your fantasy laced with comedy and great characters then I can almost guarantee that you will love this book as much as I did. As with The 13th Horseman, there were so many gags and comedy moments that had me laughing out loud, and the interplay between between Zac and Angelo is comedy gold.

I'm not sure how well this book will go down in church schools as the brainwashing leaders in these establishments might see some of the story as being mildly blasphemous, and therefore refuse to stock it in their libraries. But then these are probably the same misguided people who declare the Harry Potter books to be evil as they focus on wizards and witches. Please can we let youngsters make up their own minds about these stories? I grew up going to church every week, and my mother is an ordained minster, but I was not even remotely offended by anything I read in this book; in fact, I think I found it all the more funny and rewarding because of this. I'm not sure that the extremist loonies at the Westboro Baptist Chruch in the USA will agree with me though, but ultimately that's their loss.

The Book of Doom is scheduled to be released on the 28th February, but I notice that it is all ready in stock on a certain tax-dodging online superstore, and therefore it will probably be creeping into high street shops a little early as well. I for one would love to read more Afterworlds stories, so I urge you to go out and get your hands on a copy, especially if you are a Pratchett loving adult who wants something similar for your kids to read. 

My thanks go to the lovely people at HarperCollins for sending me a copy to review.


  1. Comparisons to Pratchett? Now how can I resist that? I may have to check the first one in this series out...

  2. I really need to check out this series - I was so tempted by The 13th Horseman and this one sounds like another fantastic story! Fab review :)