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Tom Holt is a prolific writer. I am happy about that. I would not consider all his books as comic fantasy, but the ones that are are superior. He likes to play with the idea of the multiverse, and a couple of series of books explore that idea.
This is one of my favorite books. It reminds me of one of the segments in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show called “Fragmented Fairy Tales.”
For anyone who fought with Windows in the early days of computers, some of the problems will sound familiar. The wicked queen’s operating system is Mirrors 3.0. She looks in the mirror and says “Mirror.”
An old man’s head appears and begins to rotate. “Running DOS,“ he says.
“Who’s the fairest of them all?” she asks.”
“Bad command or file name.”
“Damn!,” she says, “Who IS the fairest of them all?”
“Snow White is the fairest of them all.”
“I guess I have to murder her now,” the queen mutters.
In a distant part of the forest, a bedraggled girl finds a cottage whose door features a big brass doorknob. Through the window, she sees seven brightly colored jackets hanging on pegs. At the back of the cottage, there are torn garbage bags, a ton of empty beer cans, crumpled-up pizza boxes, and a piece of cheese with green fur on it. Obviously a place that needs someone to take charge.
In another part of the forest, the Three Little Pigs are putting the finishing touches on their new home. They have gone through straw, sticks, bricks and breeze block and are now using molybdenum-steel-covered ceramic.
The machine gun is in place, the drawbridge over the moat is up, and there is a minefield on the other side. The big, bad wolf shows up, and delivers his standard speech. He huffs. The canisters of poison gas erupt.
He puffs, setting off several mines. Then he blows their house down, leaving them in the rubble, wondering what their homeowner’s insurance is going to say about this.
The wolf, satisfied with his handiwork, goes on to his next appointment at Grandma’s house.
The reason Snow White was wandering in the Forest was that it was getting too hot for her on the riverboats where she had been working her scams. Now she has the seven samurai eating out of her hand, and it’s only a matter of time before they trust her enough for her to pull out the old “inherited gold mine that just needs a little investment money” con. In the meantime, she has them putting down papers under their muddy boots, and is leaving notes on their door in the form of haikus:
Spring winds stir the
A distant star flickers,
Empty the dustbins.
The six older samurai are working their own con on the youngest, Mr. Akira, whom they have dumped all the work on, telling him they are teaching him the Way.
Back at the palace, the queen’s chamber is hacked into by a teenager named Carl, and his sister, named Sis. They arrive with their brother as three colorblind white mice. Their brother gets frightened and runs back, closing the door behind him, trapping them in this dimension.
Carl gets caught up in the interface, and is sucked into the system. Sis panics when the queen arrives carrying a frying pan. She hides behind a curtain, where she finds the power switch and turns it off.
Anyone who ran the old Windows system knows that Windows did the most awful things when it was turned off without following the proper procedures. So does Mirrors.
Mirrors runs on any reflective surface, so the queen brings out her backup, which is a pail of water. She normally could reinstall Mirrors from this, but since it was turned off improperly. Mirrors is useless, but still on the system.
They try a “Locate Carl” command, but the pail responds: “Path Carl not found. Retry or Cancel?”
OK, the queen explains, “Mirrors has renamed him, so now it thinks he’s someone else.”
The queen goes to the closet and gets out a broom. She dips it in the bucket, and the broom stands up and starts rotating. The queen says “I was trying to slave the broom to the bucket, but the bucket failed to override the broom’s default programming, so now the broom will do what it’s designed to do. Just like last time.
The broom starts cleaning the floor with soapy water. Lots of soapy water.
The room starts filling up, so the queen and Sis go out the window carrying the pail.
Walking through the Forest, the queen explains, you normally meet an old woman or man, whose job it is to push the narrative along. Cottages are a dime a dozen, and pop in and out of existence like particles in a vacuum. And they all look the same.
Castles, on the other hand, are very expensive, so there is really only one castle, which appears to have been leased from DisneyCorp.
There are many places in the castle, which can be simultaneously used thanks to CastleManager™for Mirrors. You do not want characters from different stories meeting each other lest you trigger the dreaded CHARACTERMERGE.EXE program.
All looks quiet around the cottage, but Fang knows better. He finds a little elf, and persuades her to create a diversion for him. She does, and immediately an army of woodcutters burst from a hydrangea bush and chase her back into the Forest. With a clear field, the Wolf walks over, pushes the door open, and the wicked witch turns him into a frog.
The queen and Sis walk through a swamp until the get to a large, hollow tree. They go down a spiral staircase, at the bottom of which is a waiting room, complete with uncomfortable plastic chairs and a table full of old magazines. The queen asks to see the accountant, and they are admitted to his office. He is a leprechaun. “Who better,” explains the queen, “to take care of pots of gold?” She asks him to sort out her back-up files. He realizes that this is a piece of cake, but that wouldn’t be much of a fee, and he can’t show how excited he is, so he says “It’s going to take a while, so leave the bucket with me.”
After they leave, he has to read a volume of tax statutes to calm himself down.
After blowing down the Three Little Pigs latest home, the frog runs into Little Red Riding Hood, who picks him up and kisses him, which turns him into a handsome prince. Now he is totally disgusted having to walk on his back legs, and goes looking for a witch to change him back.
The Brothers Grimm, who are clearly here to cause trouble, find Grandma’s house. They find a witch/werewolf and manage to knock her out and lock her in the wardrobe. Grimm#1 crawls into bed, and Grimm #2 gets under the bed when they hear the handsome prince coming, looking for the witch..
A large white rabbit looks at his pocket watch and runs down his rabbit hole. Rumplestiltskin, filling in as a Dwarf, falls down that hole, just as a heavily armed rat, toad and badger from “Wind in the Willows” pass by. They step on him, thinking he is a tree root, and keep on going, never to be seen again.
The Baron and Igor are in the laboratory, shooting the juice to the Thing on the table. “MORE POWER!” the Baron cries, and Igor pushes the lever to the last notch. With a flash of blue lightning and a loud BANG, the lights go out. When they come on again, there is movement on the table. It is a brightly colored wooden puppet with a somewhat prominent nose. “Help” a little voice cries. Carl is trapped inside Pinnochio.
The Beast asks the queen for help, after he escapes from the castle, where Beauty has kept him prisoner.
He tells her that Beauty has been spending a lot of time in her room with her mirror. He claims there is a lot of spooky laughter coming from there, not all of it Beauty’s. He knows how to get to the secret passageway, and the queen decides to investigate.
There is only one secret passageway, and it is as long as you need it to be. There are lots of nooks and crannies built into it to provide hiding places for when you meet another character.
So this is where we stand:
The queen’s palace is filling up with soapy water. Fang is a handsome prince, wanting to get back to being a wolf. The two older pigs blew up the Three Bear’s cottage, trying to kill their younger brother.
Snow White has convinced the samurai that they need to kill the queen. The Brothers Grimm are talking about regime change. Carl is trapped in a puppet, and Sis needs to get back to her own dimension.
Who is going to clean up this mess?