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REVIEW: Dodger’s Doorway

Written by Scott Meridew

Here’s something I’ve never tried before. I’m going to review a book! Not a comic book though. A, what my mum would call, “proper book”. No pictures or anything! Check me out. I’m gonna be all classy and crap. Take that all my teachers at school who said I’d never amount to anything! I’M REVIEWING A BOOK!

But what should I review? The world of literature is vast and varied. I wouldn’t know where to start. Hmmm… what about… a novel written by someone close to AP2HYC? Perhaps our very own Alex Reale? That’s right kids, Alex wrote a motherlovin’ book. You’d think that he’d get someone unbiased and fair to review it and not… well… me. But nonetheless I promise to be objective in my analysis. This won’t be a fluff piece, he said wishing against hope that the book is actually good. So hold on a sec while I go and read it. Won’t be a mo!

*One intense read through later*

Huh. Whaddaya know? It’s a genuinely good book. *Wipes sweat from brow*. That could have been awkward.

Seriously though, I do like this book. It’s engaging, funny, and knows exactly what it wants to accomplish. So let’s not waste any more time and review Dodger’s Doorway! Now, seeing as this is a novel and therefore is quite long, I won’t be spoiling the whole thing for you lovely folks. I’ll talk about the initial premise and a brief overview of the main characters. That way you’ll know what it’s about but you can find out the important bits for yourself.

But what is it about exactly? Well, it’s kind of similar to Disney’s Once Upon a Time. Except not rubbish because, y’know, Disney (No, I WON’T let it go. Stop singing that you frosty twit! You’re nothing like the Hans Christian Anderson classic!). There’s a kid called Dodger (It’s a nickname, no parent would be THAT cruel) who lives in the magical world of… Philadelphia. Yeah. And he’s not exactly got the best life. Parents are fighting, bullies are after him, and he’s generally miserable. So naturally the story is about him dealing with his problems during his agonising crawl to adulthood? Nope. Instead he falls through a portal to  Storyworld, a land where the fictional characters we all know and love exist. As you do. Don’t pretend like this has never happened to you. Hell, this is an average Thursday for me.

Once in this magical world he meets Humpty Dumpty and Rumplestiltskin. Turns out that Dodger is merely the latest visitor to their world. He’s part of an exclusive club called “Literaries”, people from our world who are chosen to embark on epic quests, before returning to their world to write stories about the characters they meet. These include the Brothers Grimm, William Shakespeare and J.M. Barrie. Although it turns out that they tend to exert a bit of artistic liberty in that regard. Rumplestiltskin is an alchemist and Humpty, or SIR Humpty as he’d like to be known, is actually a brave warrior who is not at all happy with being reduced to a children’s nursery rhyme about falling off a wall. In fact, almost none of the tales and characters are as Dodger knows them to be. And together, these three, um, for the sake of argument let’s call them heroes, are tasked by Princess Tinkerbell (Thanks Alex, for making me have to write that. Now I need to grow a beard, climb a mountain, and watch a Jason Statham film in order to feel manly again.) to save their world.

Let’s talk about the characters a bit. Dodger is pretty much the typical reluctant hero. And yes, we’ve seen that trope many times in the past. But here, it works in his favour. He doesn’t like rushing head first into danger, waving his sword and shouting “BY THE POWER OF GRAYSKULL!” because he’s a teenager with more than half a brain from bloody Philadelphia. Imagine if somebody asked YOU to go slay a dragon and crap. You’d probably object as well. I know I would. But then I’m scared of taking the bus on my own so many I’m not the best person to ask.

This not only makes sense within the context of the story but also gives us some pretty funny moments. Plus it means that he doesn’t take any of their fantasy crap at face value. He’s not afraid to criticise someone’s motivation or actions, which is actually pretty ballsy considering he’s in unfamiliar territory. Which also sadly makes him the audience surrogate, meaning he’s the one that asks all the pertinent questions, like: “Who’s that guy?”, “What’s that thing?”, “What happened here?”, and “Where do babies come from?”. Okay, that last one doesn’t happen, but you get the idea. And, yeah, this is important information we need to have, but the problem with an unfamiliar environment is that there needs to be a lot of exposition. But seeing as it’s a novel, there’s plenty of room for that. If George R. R. Martin can spend ten pages talking about pubic hair, Alex can have Dodger ask a few questions.

Humpty and Rump (Because nobody has the energy to call someone Rumplestiltskin for any extended period of time) are pretty much there to keep Dodger going on his quest and provide most of the necessary exposition. And they do a good job of that. But they’re not only a good foil for his no nonsense attitude, they’re interesting counterparts to each other. Humpty being more physical and brawny, and Rump relying on magic and brain power. They have a few verbal sparring matches that are fun to read. It provides for a good balance to the group. They pick up and interact with other characters later on, but these are the ones I’m talking about so shush.

What’s something else that’s good about Dodger’s Doorway? Well, remember I talked about how the characters aren’t how we know them? That’s actually one of the book’s greatest strengths. If the characters were exactly as they are portrayed in their various original sources, then what would be the point in reading about any of them, except for Dodger. It’d be kind of like that movie The Pagemaster, where the main character is basically a tourist, bumping into famous characters but not really interacting with them on any kind of meaningful level. In Dodger’s Doorway, we’ve heard of these characters, but are surprised when they are different. It means we can get to know them like any other character. And more importantly, they can develop and grow. It’s not all surface.

Going further than that, it means this world has it’s own unique mythology. Yeah, these are characters that have been written before in other works. But their history is different, so their culture is different, so their world is different. And not just different, complex. It has depth and is therefore a much better established setting than “Ooh look, it’s a world in which fictional characters exist”. It’s like taking a bunch of different colours and mixing them together to create an entirely new colour. By taking the familiar and exploring it in new directions, Alex has created something actually original that we can easily accept and enjoy for what it is.

Any negatives to talk about? Well, yeah. There’s always going to be something to nitpick, no matter what you’re talking about. So I guess the thing to talk about is the writing style itself. For me, personally, it’s very functional and direct. Not that it never spends any time focusing on what a character is thinking or feeling. It’s just mainly focused on what they are saying and doing. I prefer and equal blend of the two. This means the plot moves along at a brisk pace, which can be good in some parts, but I feel like different speeds are necessary in a book. Don’t worry, it’s doesn’t have a breakneck pace. It’s not like a bad fanfic where it’s all: “TheresaguyandhegoesonanadventureandmeetspeopleandtheresswordfightsandcrapYAY!”. Thing is, speaking as a writer, pacing is one of the harder things about writing, especially in a novel that’s usually several hundred pages. And it’s not a dealbreaker in this case. So if you don’t like books that take their sweet time getting to the action, this is the one for you.

So to sum up, it’s a good book that uses familiar tropes and characters but reinvents them to explore new territory. This isn’t just an example of good writing, it’s bloody rare! It an age where reboots and sequels and remakes are being shoved in our faces, where creativity is seen as trying to present the same things all over again (I’m looking at YOU, Abrams!), we need something that’s fresh and interesting. But it’s got that hint of familiarity to make the whole experience less daunting. Frankly, we need more stuff like this. And if that’s something you’d be interested in, then I can’t recommend this book enough. You can check it out on amazon here!

What do YOU think of this review? Was it a long literary love letter? Or a boring book b-*mumbles something*. I’ve said it before, alliteration is hard. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter! Meanwhile, I’m going to go write a book of my own! It’s about a brilliant, young, handsome, charismatic, British geek who singlehandedly brings down the Disney corporation and rescues all the orphaned puppies of the world from Donald Trump’s fortress of doom. It’s semi-autobiographical.

About the author

Scott Meridew