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Up in a Heaval
Piers Anthony
Tor Books, 348 pages

Darrell K. Sweet
Up in a Heaval
Piers Anthony
Piers Anthony is a pen name for Piers Anthony Dillingham Jacob. The author of better than 100 published books, he is perhaps best known for his Xanth series of fantasy novels which now number twenty. His first novel, Chthon, was published in 1967. He lives in Inverness, Citrus County, Florida.

Piers Anthony Web Site
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Quest for the Fallen Star
Piers Anthony Tribute Site
Piers Anthony Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

It started out as a run-of-the-mill bet between the Demon Jupiter and Demoness Fornax -- if he won, he'd get her planet, and, perhaps, her to play with; if she won, she'd get Xanth, and she'd would get to vivisect its creatures for research. They create Umlaut to fulfill the bet. Not a true human, if he figures out who he is before he completes his task, Fornax wins.

Umlaut has two talents -- he can emulate nearly anything, and he is extremely attractive to the ladies. Using his first talent to avoid getting married to someone ensnared by the latter, he ends up at Zombie castle, where he's to muck out the dragon filth. He finds Sesame Serpent, who was trapped in the dungeon, and a pile of letters, one of which is addressed to Jupiter. They send it off via the internet, but Jupiter's response is not what they hoped for. In his rage, he's thrown his red spot at the earth. The lady of Zombie Castle sends them to the Good Magician Humfrey, who suggests that Umlaut deliver the rest of the letters.

Piers Anthony loves his puns... sometimes Up in a Heaval becomes a pun-a-minute, both clever and plain silly. I love them, but those of us with more serious perspectives may find themselves having a hard time until they get into the rhythm. After that, the story clicks into place, and is quite funny and adventurous. The puns are important because they are what drive the flavor of this book, in fact, much of the whole Xanth series. It also allows for the story to be told in a different way. Highly fantastical elements, such as an ant with a placard (Intellig Ant) or a snail delivering mail (Yep, Snail Mail) slip right into the story with no explanation of how they came to be. Your suspension of disbelief doesn't even come into it... it takes a long needed vacation. In this vein, then, you would expect animals as the main characters... Sammy the cat and Claire Voyance, for instance, or Sesame Serpent, to speak. They don't, the narrative basically explains what they said. I thought it added a lot to the feel of the book, because instead of hearing their voice, your own voice tells you what happened. It's something that I admit I would probably edit out if a young writer passed it to me -- show don't tell being a huge rule they pound into us, but for some quirky reason it works in Up in a Heaval. I guess it blends in with the humorous, fast pace of the book, while, strangely, being one of the more realistic aspects. In a book filled with zombies, demonesses, and walking boats, the fact that the animals (mostly) don't talk is somehow that touch of realism that keeps the book from slipping into chaos.

Umlaut doesn't have any pretensions, either. Well, perhaps pretensions towards being real, but that aside, he's a very likable character who readily admits that he's not the brightest bulb in the ceiling. His genuine willingness to do right, and to accept and be kind to the strange allies that gather around him, make him someone that you want to travel with for some three hundred pages.

Those new to Xanth may not realize that this is just one chapter of a long and very popular series. I'm not even sure what volume in the series this is... somewhere between the 20th and the 33hundredth. While you'll find a minor character here or there from past books, Piers Anthony continues his tradition of making mostly new characters... populating his Florida-looking Xanth with fascinating and unusual creatures. A trip to Xanth is almost joyful in its lightness, and to tell you the truth, it beats sitting around in Mundania any day.

Copyright © 2003 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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