Drinking Midnight Wine by Simon R. Green. 
List Price: £9.99. (UK Paperback)
UK Paperback - 265 pages (15 November, 2001)
Gollancz; ISBN: 0575072466
UK Hardcover - 304 pages (February 2002)
Roc; ISBN: 0451458672
US Paperback - 304 pages (February 2002)
New American Library Trade; ISBN: 0451458672
Check out this book at: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Review by Lavie Tidhar

I must confess I did not expect to like Drinking Midnight Wine a great deal. Perhaps because of the lurid (if charming) cover, or unfamiliarity with the author’s previous novels – and at first it certainly seemed to justify my expectations.

The novel starts with Toby, an unassuming clerk in a bookshop commuting from work to his hometown of Bradford-on-Avon. The bookshop is called “Gandalf’s”, and in an act of recursive writing the author, as Toby, comments that “the real money still came from the never-ending turnover of brand-name best-sellers: Stephen King, Terry Pratchett, J.K Rowling…

Toby has fallen in love with a woman on the train. And when the woman opens a door in the wall that has not existed before, and goes through it, Toby follows her to find himself in the magical world of Mysterie, super-imposed on the real world of Veritie like cling-film. From here on, the plot moves rapidly and becomes increasingly funnier, as we meet Jimmy Thunder – God for Hire, The Waking Beauty, Nicholas Hob the Serpent’s Son, the murderous Angel (a fallen angel) and a whole host of other bizarre characters involved, ultimately, in a battle for the world in the best traditions of James Bond. Without giving anything away, it must be revealed that Good, ultimately, will triumph, that Love, naturally, will flower, and the Bad Guy, typically, will be destroyed. None of which stops this novel from being an extremely enjoyable (if pulpish) romp through fantasyland, with likeable characters, some very good jokes and excellent story telling. I particularly liked the death-walkers – “going where no living man has dared to go before, and doing our very best to come back and talk about it afterwards…” and the hippie mice – “We may be mice now, but we can still have standards.”

Green has no pretensions to reinventing fantasy, but he utilises genre-conventions well and with a recursive, post-modern style that passes comment upon what has gone before. A good example is the very funny duel-dialogue between Toby and the King of the Cats, echoing, (and perhaps poking fun at!) the conclusion to China Mieville’s King Rat  How did you get to be the king? [Asks Toby] Start at the bottom and work your way up?Or is it a purely constitutional title these days, with no real power and responsibility?And isn’t the idea of an absolute monarchy dangerously outdated, in this day and age? Perhaps you’d be better off with a committee, or some form of proportional representation.”

All in all, this is a highly satisfying comic fantasy - well written, funny and with a happy ending. I only wish Green will use his considerable skill, in the future, for a more ambitious novel. I believe it will be worth the wait.

© 2001 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu