23rd October 2009
I had been looking forward to this book. Its imminent publication had prompted me to reread all five of Douglas Adams' original Hitchhiker novels and so I was truly psyched up for it, and the story so far was fresh in my mind. But now having finished reading, I'm strangely ambivalent about Colfer's attempt.
The characters were all present, well not all, but sufficient (Marvin didn't even get a name check) and were fairly accurately portrayed to their original selves. What I found disconcerting was the amount of word-time dedicated to each. The previous novels were very definitely focussed on Arthur, where actually he probably gets the least attention in this one.
The plot had a surprisingly strong basis - still wacky but much more thought out and whole than the previous episodes. While the novel did kick off where Mostly Harmless concluded it moved off in a new direction that was all its own. Colfer introduces a range of new characters with fascinating names such as Hillman Hunter and Constant Mown who on the most part enrich the H2G2 universe and make the alien species much more three dimensional.
The story itself starts out quite slowly I found, and it took quite a while for me to get the voice in my head. The narration of the previous books was really easy to hear in the voices of both the original narrator from the radio series and Stephen Fry, whereas the language of this one didn't seem to flow as naturally. Once the plotline gets going, we seem to lose the main characters for the middle third of the book as Colfer spends time introducing and building up his own additions to the cast. In a classic Adams, Colfer brings Thor into things as a god who has lost his self-confidence, paralleling his appearances in Adams' Dirk Gently series.
The final third of this book was the best part in my opinion. The voice of the book was feeling comfortable, the central and new characters had their roles and the ending was classic
My main criticism of the book is that in places it tried too hard. There are a lot of references back to asides from the original novels, which seem over the top in places and almost forced. However there are also an overly large number of new asides with a few too many crazy unpronounceable alien names with too many Xs and Zs and not enough vowels. Colfer also introduces 'Guide Notes' - little asides in italics purporting to be extracts from the guide explaining references from the main text. I thought these were a really good idea to get some more appearances of the guide in, as the titular device has made surprisingly few appearances as a guidebook throughout the whole series.
Overall I found the first two thirds quite slow and hard going, but the final third made up for it with an upping of pace, character, action and excitement. Although a few days ago I thought I would be writing a disappointed review, I now find that I'm sorry it's over and wishing for a book 7.