The Failed Fellowship by Michael R. Underwood

The Failed FellowshipThe Failed Fellowship

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Genrenauts, #5 & 6

eARC, 181 pg.

Read: September 16 – 17, 2016

Her job was to fix the story, not right every little wrong in the entire world.

But was that really enough? If you force someone to work with shoddy equipment and they get hurt every week, eventually, shouldn’t you fix the tool instead of sending them to the doctor? She’d spent the last several months playing the doctor, applying spot fixes along with the team, keeping to the shadows. Help the real hero, delay the problems until the real hero came back.

I want to come back to talk about Leah’s continuing difficulties adopting the right attitude as a Genrenaut, but we’ve got some work to get through first.

A band of intrepid warriors, in possession of a magic artifact carried by the one person capable of stopping a great evil enters a castle and fights through untold numbers of warriors through magic and feats of strength and skill. Only to have the Chosen One killed before they can challenge the leader of the forces of evil. Clearly, not the way this story is supposed to go — which creates problems on Earth Prime, and a need for Angstrom King’s team to come to Fantasy World, get the band back together, and fix the story.

The first thing the team does when they get to the world is track down Ioseph, the wizard who assembled the failed heroes. Leah describes him as:

Gandalf if Gondor had already fallen, Dumbledore facing a fascist wizard state under Voldemort.

Which is a great descriptive line, wholly genre-appropriate. This is Underwood at his best — not that he’s not great in SF or the other genres we’ve seen this season — but in Fantasy, he’s at his strength (see the Ree Reyes series for further examples).

It’s not just Underwood being comfortable, either — one of the first things we learned about Leah is that she’s a big Fantasy Fan. So her being here was is just what she’s been waiting for — and she makes the most of it. She jokes, she fights, she sings (her character is a bard), performs heroic deeds and she eats a lot of stew (while making the requisite snarky remarks about the stew). Everything you want in an epic fantasy novel or game, it’s celebrated and commented on at the same time. It’d be very easy to do a quick edit to remove all the references to other worlds/Genrenauts/etc. and come up with a decent novella-length story here — with a pretty good twist. Thankfully, we don’t have to read that hypothetical edit — we get Leah and the gang guiding us through it.

In addition to the pretty fun story — we get to see these Genrenauts function like a fully formed team — which is not to say they’re perfect, part of it is Leah’s rookie status, part of it comes from the length of time they spend in this world (as we learned last time), and part of it is the uncertainty that the tall woman they’ve been chasing brings to the story. There’s at least one other part, but you have to read the book to learn about it. Roman gets to tell Leah where he came from and what that means, which helps him a lot (the rest of the team, too). King’s and Shirin’s part of the story is the more straight-forward, if for no other reason than their temperaments and experience. Which is not to say that their parts are dull — in fact, one of the best characters from this world (with the obligatory annoying ‘ in his name) comes from their portion of the story.

The focus is, of course, on Leah — she loves being surrounded by a fantasy story and lets the setting get to her. Also, as the opening quotation shows, she’s struggling with her role as a Genrenaut in various worlds. Much like Kirk bristling under the constraints of the Prime Directive, Leah has a hard time adapting her sense of right and wrong to the world and culture she’s in — and I’m not sure she’s getting better about it, maybe she’s getting worse the more comfortable she is with the team. Frankly, I’m glad to see her struggle here, and I’m not sure what side I want her to come down on.

Leah’s now at the end of her probationary status — and if any of the Genrenauts were analyzing their own story, they’d clearly see that this was the end of a narrative arc and that something big was about to happen — enough to close this chapter and lead into a new one. It does, and it’s a doozy. Man, I hope things went well enough on the sales front for Underwood to be able to bring us a second season (if not seven) — I’m more than ready to support the next Kickstarter.

Underwood seemed more confident, a little more willing to have fun with the genre in these entries than he has with the others (not that he’s been all that restrained before). I loved this. When (for example) Leverage was on the air — there were better shows on, but few that I enjoyed as much. Similarly, I’ve read better books this year than The Failed Fellowship or any of the others in this series, but not that many and none have made me as happy reading these. There is one line towards the end of this that made me laugh out loud (and groan, too — Leah has no shame) and if I read an interview where Underwood said he wrote the previous 5 books in this series just to set up this line? It’d be justified.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the author in exchange for this post — I thank him for it (and for releasing the cover image in time for me to post this without my lousy placeholder).


5 Stars

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