Splashdance Silver: Book 1 of The Mocklore Chronicles—Tansey Rayner Roberts
Bantam/Transworld Publishers Australia, September 1998, pb, 386 pp, $14.95
Reviewed by Jonathan Strahan
Kara Daggersharp is the daughter of a witch and the infamous pirate Captain Vicious Bigbeard Daggersharp. As is traditional, he has been betrayed by his cabin boy, and it is left to Kara to assume her birthright as a Pirate of Note, assembling a pirate crew to avenge her father and lay claim to his famous treasure, the Splashdance silver. The thing is, and much of the novel follows from this point, Kara is not particularly sure she wants to follow in the steps of either of her parents. She doesn't fancy becoming either a witch like her mother or a Pirate of Note like her father. Still, after she is informed of her father's death (by an exploding garden ornament), the chase for the silver lifts Kara up from the tavern in the town of Dreadnought where she is working as a dancer, and whisks her along in its wake. As it does, she will encounter the courtesan who has declared herself Emperor of Mocklore who desperately needs Kara's silver to keep the empire solvent, a pin-up boy swordsman with a penchant for treachery, some gods, a few witches, the city Businessmen, a soap opera and the Hidden Army.
Comic fantasy depends upon inventiveness and timing. The author has to be able to produce a non-stop flow of new and interesting characters and situations, whilst never forgetting that the point is to make us laugh. It is something that Terry Pratchett had made his stock in trade, and it's a skill that Roberts is clearly developing. From the opening scene of the novel, she skillfully juggles an ever-expanding cast, while building up the world of Mocklore. While I couldnt' escape the feeling that, like Seinfeld, this comedy is not about much, it was seldom less than entertaining and on occasion very funny.
Splashdance Silver is clearly a first novel. At times Roberts lets her narrative wander a little (there is at least one sub-plot which could have disappeared), the plot slackens, and it feels like she is reaching a little for her next gag. However, this really does not detract from what is a very enjoyable novel. There will be at least two more instalments in the Mocklore Chronicles, Liquid Gold and Soapy Ballads, and I'm already clearing space on my "Guilty Pleasures" shelf. If Splashdance Silver is anything to go by, they should be a lot of fun, and Tansy Rayner Roberts should be a name we'll be hearing for a long time to come.
©1998 Jonathan Strahan.