Josh's Reviews > Divine Misfortune

Divine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez
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's review
May 22, 2012

really liked it

I'm uncomfortable giving this book a 4 star rating. This is the second Martinez book I've read, and I like his stuff. It's certainly entertaining, and he focuses on very human, moral questions in the middle of lots of absurd tentacle monster battles. But there's a certain dullness to the prose that puts me off slightly. It never quite cracks the wit as sharp as I want it to. That's not saying that I wish it was funnier. I just wish the prose had more killer instinct and harder edges. It feels fuzzy in places. It's a little hard to back that up, but that's how it plays for me.

The focus is on story and character craft, with Douglas Adams-esque flights of imagination to round it out. The characters are nicely drawn without being belabored. They're decidedly cartoony, but with real human-style concerns to keep them interesting. Both books I've read are fun, and my feeling is that this fact defeats most criticisms. You're following big characters around in fantastic adventures, and if the characters weren't as big, or if the adventures weren't as fantastic you'd be missing something. It's also nice that there's some moral substance to interact with. Setting off this kind of "light writing" against Wodehouse, Martinez has actual moral questions he's interacting with where Wodehouse has none. So it's fun, but the fun is grounded in human issues.

This makes the books more like Pixar movies in novel form for adults. I can see how that might come off as a disparagement, but it shouldn't. That's a great thing for a book to be. It's not the only thing for a book to be, but it's not a bad thing to try for. The only failing on this front, is that I feel like Pixar has complete mastery of the vocabulary and range of expression they have access to in filmmaking, where Martinez is more limited. His language just isn't as much fun as it could be.

He cites Edgar Rice Burroughs and Douglas Adams as inspirations, and then seems to focus on comic books and movies and video games. There's nothing wrong with counting Superman and Batman as inspirations, but I wonder if he's neglected stronger prose writers to such an extent that he's been slightly handicapped. Impossible to say. Maybe he's a closet Nabokov fan. But if he is, it doesn't show.
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