Genre Humor: The Dark Lord & Wrath of Betty

Humor can be incredibly subjective, especially when we're talking literary humor. I don't know if it's the absence of a laugh track, the fact that we can't see the smiles, or just the need to pay close attention to each and every word, but I find that humor in books often falls flat. Every once in a while you come across a genius like Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams, but that kind of sustained, consistently amusing humor is rare. Not unheard of, mind you - James Walley, Lee Battersby, Tim Marquitz, and C.T. Phipps have all successfully amused me over the past few years - but definitely rare.

That brings us to a pair of reads that I've been bouncing between for the past week . . .

The Dark Lord by Jack Heckel is what I would call conceptual humor. There's some very funny turns-of-phrase and some laugh-out-loud dialogue throughout, but the humor here is more in the idea of it all than in the telling itself. What Heckel has constructed here is actually a very clever premise that's surprisingly complicated and deep for such a humorous novel.

Basically, the story is set in a world where both magic and science are real, and where it is possible to shape the very reality of other worlds or dimensions. Avery, a student at Mysterium University, has just returned from playing The Dark Lord in the world of Trelari, having allowed the heroes to defeat him as part of his experiment in proving that these other worlds can be self-sustaining. Unfortunately, one bad choice, one cute girl, and one evening of boasting threatens to see all his work undone, and he must return to Trelari, gather his heroes, and defeat the new Dark Queen.

Heavy stuff, I know, and it gets even heavier. You really have to keep in mind how these worlds work, and just how much control Avery has over Trelari's reality, to appreciate the way the story develops. While he's built all the fantasy tropes and clich├ęs into this world, the arrival of the Dark Queen challenges them all, while reality itself fights to 'right' itself according to the rules. That justifies characters acting entirely out of character, bizarre coincidences, and entirely silly developments. It's all very meta and self-aware, kind of like a drunken role playing session where the DM is so drunk on his own power, he really has become something of a god.

Like I said, this is conceptual humor, and very hard to convey in a review. It's less about silly quotes and funny moments, and more about how well the concept of the world, along with the roles of Dark Lord, Dark Queen, and Heroes, all combine to drive both the story and the amusement. If you're in the mood for a smart, self-aware sort of humorous fantasy, then The Dark Lord is a must-read.

Kindle Edition
Published November 1st 2016 by Harper Voyager

Willful Child: Wrath of Betty by Steven Erikson, on the other hand, is what I would call in-your-face narrative humor. This is less a book of ideas, and more one of puns, jokes, double entendres, and other clever wordplay. While there is a loosely structured plot behind it all, the story is completely secondary to the humor.

This is a book that's almost exhausting to read. Erikson packs a joke or a pun into almost every single sentence. Names are entirely ridiculous, dialogue is over-the-top cheesy, and the action is frantically slapstick. It's rude and ribald, rarely rising above the level of crass bathroom humor, but if you're an open-minded fan of all things Star Trek, then it works. If you're not even a casual fan . . . well, you're probably wise to avoid this at all costs, as the parody simply doesn't work if you can't appreciate the references.

Basically, this is a continuation (and an exaggeration) of the Kirk era, with all the sexism, misogyny, arrogance, and casual racism taken to the extreme. There are nods to the progressive, more socially aware aspects of the Picard era, but they really only exist to further emphasize how much of a bad-ass, self-important, womanizing space cowboy Captain Hadrian Sawback really is. It's an episodic story, flitting from scene to scene, with what almost feel like commercial breaks in between. This is not a story to be consumed in one sitting, but one to be enjoyed a few chapters at a time. More than that, and it moves beyond exhausting to become tiresome and tedious.

Willful Child: Wrath of Betty is not the best example of Erikson's humor - for that, check out his far superior Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach - but still an entirely amusing diversion for Star Trek fans.

Hardcover, 336 pages
Published November 1st 2016 by Tor Books

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of these titles from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.


  1. Could not agree more with your sentiments re: the humor in Wrath of Betty. It was chuckle-worthy, but definitely a "take in small doses" kind of book.

    And interesting about The Dark Lord; one look at that cover and I wouldn't have thought there was anything humorous about the story at all, but now I'm intrigued by your descriptions.

    ~Mogys @ BiblioSanctum

    1. Dark Lord was a lot of fun. I think you'd appreciate it.


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