Friday, November 26, 2021

The Last Adventure of Constance Verity

The Last Adventure of Constance Verity
by A. Lee Martinez
Recommended Ages: 13+

Constance Verity has been having constant adventures since she was seven years old. Now in her 30s, she's sick of it and she wants to settle down to an ordinary life. The trouble is, a fairy godmother's blessing (or curse) set her on a path to a life both ordinary and extraordinary, only the ordinary never panned out. All her boyfriends have either been the love-her-and-leave her type, like a certain ninja thief who left her dangling over a crocodile pit, or regular guys who ended up getting eaten by giant snakes or trampled by dinosaurs. She spends so much time thwarting alien invasions and rescuing her childhood best friend, Tia, from singing pirates that she hasn't even had time to unpack the boxes of cursed artifacts stacked in her living room. And now there's a guy – a lovably average guy – that she doesn't want to let slip away. So what does she have to do? Kill her fairy godmother, for starters.

From that unheroic beginning, Connie – with plucky sidekick Tia in tow and a fairy godmother's ghost tucked into her shirt pocket (dont' ask) – embarks on an adventure that's all about refusing to have adventures. Instead of letting herself be lured off to a quiet corner of the universe to chase red herrings, or yellow aliens, she plunges headlong into conspiracy within conspiracy within conspiracy, in search of the chewy center of it all. Her escapes from inescapable dungeons, her uncovering of one secret identity after another, her hazarding the existential horror that is Kansas, hardly begin to prepare her for the grim truth that behind everything is an insane, super-intelligent computer that controls the multiverse, and her unwanted gifts as the caretaker of reality is the last thing standing in the way of a terrible plan that began when creation was young. And by "terrible plan" I don't mean an dastardly plot; I mean a really bone-headed idea that's about to come back and bite the universe where it sits.

Connie's adventure is loaded, like sardine-tin loaded, with gags, fantasy and folklore in-references, personal soul-searching and relationship drama, and tantalizing glimpses of high-concept adventures. It bursts with so many weird characters and situations that its episodic graininess threatens to bring down the plot soufflé. There are a couple of character discussions that continue past the point where you'd expect them to stop, which is either a flaw in Martinez's usually spot-on comedic timing or an indication that he's taking his storyline seriously and giving it the full treatment it deserves; I think different readers will land in different places between those poles. But what I can't deny is that it had multiple, like evil-genius-lair minion-cloning-machine multiple, moments where I had to put the book down until I could get my laughter under control – not just punchlines but entire paragraphs or groups of paragraphs that struck something that kept resonating, so that I only had to think about them to start laughing again – and at least one page where I felt compelled to phone a friend to read it to them, because it was too perfect not to share. At the risk of restating what is probably a theme with my reading of Martinez's novels, much can be forgiven an author who makes us laugh that hard.

Title notwithstanding, this is the first of three Constance Verity adventures by the Texas-based author of Gil's All Fright Diner, The Automatic Detective and many more funny sci-fi and fantasy novels. The other two titles in the series are Constance Verity Saves the World and Constance Verity Destroys the Universe.

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