Whenever possible, book reviewers will set out to make clear statements in their reviews on whether a book is “good” or “bad.” Strong plot, compelling themes and layered characters: good. Muddled prose, poor editing and heavy-handed description: bad. Not every book is so considerate as to lie clearly on one side of the good/bad line or the other, though, and the growing use of self-publishing companies like Xlibris to circumvent agents, editors and publishers means that the line will only continue to be blurred further.
“Fat Chance,” a new fantasy novel by former Glendale-area resident Phil Drake, is a book that straddles that line between genius and not quite there yet. The novel, which tells the hilarious story of two warring kingdoms, Thinsylvania and Chubolia, and their determination to remain at opposite ends of the eating disorder spectrum, is clever and poignant in a society that can’t decide if it’s too fat or unhealthily skinny. It’s also a bit rough around the edges, though.
When Princess Tunya of Chubolia is kidnapped by the Prime Minister of Thinsylvania to be his Prince Rodney’s bride, a small band of Chubolians attempt to cross a treacherous mountain range to save her. The brave men encounter obstacles that would make even slightly overweight individuals cringe: rope bridges, food shortages, turnstiles, etc. The chronically skinny residents of Thinsylvania have their own problems, though. Anorexic potential brides for Prince Rodney keep wasting away to dust, which is why they’re forced to outsource in the first place, and the Prime Minister keeps convincing King Slendall to outlaw more and more types of food.
The story gets a bit goofy at times, but as a satire that is more than acceptable. Drake makes it clear that neither the Thinsylvanians nor the Chubolians are correct in thinking that their way of life is healthy or entirely correct, and he does so with humor and highly original conflicts. The characters, while understandably over the top, are each unique and wonderfully fleshed out — no pun intended, Chubolians.
“Fat Chance” would have benefited greatly from an editor, though, which is a service that Xlibris does not provide. The book is riddled with unnecessary spelling and grammar errors, the dialogue is very clumsy at times, and the point of view shifts in heavy-handed ways with few clean transitions. None of these issues on their own were enough to keep me from appreciating Drake’s grander ideas and themes, but together they turned a quick, delightful read into a slower and murkier affair.
The ability to get any author published through self-publishing services like Xlibris is a double-edged sword. It is certainly fantastic that large publishing houses no longer have the final say in what gets published, but in a world where anyone can be published, anything can be published as well. That doesn’t just mean that authors with good books and authors with bad books will get published. It also means that good authors with books that aren’t quite there yet and just need a bit of tweaking will get published.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading “Fat Chance.” I think that Drake is a clever writer with a compelling story and original ideas, and the novel showcases that. However, I hope that for his next book his brings in an editor to polish up his great prose and make it excellent. If it’s as good as “Fat Chance,” though, I’m sure I’d read it either way.
BRIAN McGACKIN is the author of “Broetry” (Quirk Books). He is an alumnus of USC’s graduate creative writing program, where he focused on poetry and literary critical analysis. Reach him at email@example.com.
WHO: Phil Drake
WHAT: his new fantasy novel, “Fat Chance”
WHERE: available for purchase online through Amazon.com, Chubolia.com, and Barnes & Noble
HOW MUCH: $29.99 hardcover (Xlibris, 144 pages), $19.99 paperback, $9.99 ebook