the Little Red Reviewer

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, by H.G. Parry

Posted on: May 13, 2019

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, by H.G. Parry

Available July 2019

where I got it: received ARC (Thanks Hachette!!)

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Since the beginning of ever there has been this thing that readers and writers of literature don’t read or write genre fiction, and readers and writers  of genre fiction don’t read or write literature. That’s all bullshit by the way, but there are always authors who are offended that people call them “science fiction writers”, and readers of literature who look down on us speculative fiction readers.

 

Yet, it begs the question – how to get lit readers and genre fiction readers to see how much they have in common? That we all love a story well told, that we all love characters who go  through hell and back, that we all love the feeling of falling headfirst into a book? The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry could be the book that brings us all together. This book stitches together a scholar’s love for classic British literature with the scifi/fantasy joyful gleefulness of fictional characters who literally come alive out of books and then someone’s got to help them figure out how to live in the real world, or shove them screaming back into their dry paper pages.

 

If you’re a scifi/fantasy fan, and you enjoy Jim C. Hines’ Libriomancer books, or if you secretly loved those ST:TNG episodes where the holodeck went haywire and some poor Ensign found themselves face to face with Moriarty, you’ll enjoy this book.

 

If you have no idea what libriomancy or a holodeck is, but you love Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, and anything involving Sherlock Holmes, and/or if you intimately know the beauty and the power of literature,  you’ll enjoy this book.

 

For nearly 30 years, Rob has helped keep a dangerous family secret.  The secret is that his little brother, Charley, can literally pull story book characters out of books.  When then were little boys, Charley pulled the Cat in the Hat right out of the book! Now that Charley is back in Rob’s life,  Rob’s got to once again get used to middle of the night phone calls of “help, it happened again. Can you come over?”. The family fears the worst if anyone where to find out about Charley’s secret power. Would he be thrown into some secret prison lab somewhere, never be to be seen again?

 

Much of the story is told from Rob’s point of view, and he’s the classic frustrated older sibling, as loyal to and protective of his little brother has he is annoyed by being constantly dragged into his brother’s problems. How long can Rob keep this a secret from his fiance? And who the hell is this Uriah Heep look-a-like who has shown up as an intern at Rob’s workplace??

 

The plot thickens right away, when Charley and Rob are told of a secret “street”. Through an alleyway, they find a secret door, behind which lies The Street. Storybook characters who have been given life (by Charley???  By someone else?) eventually find their way to the Street, where they can live safely. The White Witch of Narnia is here, as is the Implied Reader, along with Heathcliff, Matilda, five versions of Mr. Darcy, Miss Matty,   Dorian Gray, and Millie Radcliffe-Dix, among others. I’ll need a pulp mystery expert’s help here, but I believe Millie Radcliffe-Dix is an actual fictional character made up for this novel, she’s a 1950s Girl Detective – full of moxie and smarts, and never in any actual physical danger.

 

Rob is astounded and rather terrified to see all these fictional characters wandering around, and Charley is full of wonder and glee. The Street is the first place where Charley has felt safe.

But wait a minute – Charley didn’t bring all these people to life, so who did?  There must be another summoner wandering around!  And how did the Street suddenly come into existence a few years ago? So many questions, and no answers. Millie and Charley team up to try to find the other summoner, while two versions of Uriah Heep are wandering around, and the Street has its first ever earthquakes.   And did I mention the Hound of the Baskervilles also makes a terrifying appearance?

 

Yes, lots happening at once, but Parry keeps the pace flowing at exactly the right speed, slowly ratcheting up the tension and edginess, while at the same time balancing darkness and humor.   By the halfway point, I couldn’t put this book down – I was having a helluva good time, I loved the discussions about the power of a good book, and I was honestly worried about these fictional people. I didn’t want any of them to die, you know?  And I suddenly want to read a whole ton of Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde, you know, in between my N.K. Jemisin and China Mieville.

 

I might not be able to summon a person out of the pages of a book, but while I’m reading about that person, I care about them and worry about them, I desperately want them to be OK.   The fictional characters in this book, they know they are just words on a page, they know their summoner can re-interpret them, or “put them back into the book”, at any time. These people live in a constant state of fear, as us readers truly do have the power of life and death over them. Pretty scary, when you think about it.

 

There is a scene where  Rob asks Charley why he doesn’t just shove people right back into their books as soon as he accidentally pops them out.  Charley says it’s hard to put them back because it feels like dying. When his family says “put David Copperfield back where he lives, right now!”,  do they realize two people are about go through what feels like death? That scene just about killed me.

 

Parry has a TON of fun with the characters who live on the Street, they all act the way their original incarnations demand.  The banter between Millie and Dorian is addictive, those two need their own book, like, right now. God damnit, why does Dorian Gray have to be so broodingly attractive?  Not fair!! I’m jealous that Millie gets to talk with him, and I don’t. (why am I jealous of two random fictional characters?? See? Power of literature at work!)

 

It’s always so fun to talk about “the power great literature has on readers”, and this book has a blast flipping that phrase inside out – what effect to readers have on fictional characters?  As the final scenes get closer, that flipped phrase takes on a dark and dangerous tone. If you’re looking for a meta thought experiment about the strength of the connection between reader and story, you won’t do much better than The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep.

 

Gosh, I’ve not hardly told you anything about the actual plot of this book or the whole ‘umble Uriah Heep thing, have I? Sorry not sorry.

 

Ok, so I loved everything about this book except for one thing.  I’m a slow reader, because I read close. And when I feel a mystery is a-brewing, I pay super close attention to the details. I have no idea if Parry did this on purpose, but there were clues (and some red herrings) everywhere.  I had a hunch about the ending pretty much right away, and the more I read, the stronger my hunch was. And my guess was right. If you’re the type of reader who gets frustrated when you can easily guess the big reveal, you may be disappointed in this book.  But, i also don’t think that being able to guess the end was the point of this book? Like, the best surprise ever was that guessing the end wasn’t the prize. The prize was way, way bigger.

 

Bottom Line:  The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep is fun, smart, and compellingly meta. This book is a love letter to why we love to read. This is a book about how underneath a mystery that exists to be solved, is the beautiful mystery of the joy and power of story telling. Struggling to find a book you and your non-genre-reading best friend can both enjoy?  Here you go.

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8 Responses to "The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, by H.G. Parry"

This sounds like a blast, and I love the fact that there are multiple versions of Mr. Darcy!!😁

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yes! five different Mr. Darcy’s!

oh, this book was super fun! I hope you give it a try.

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Does it mention the song Easy Livin’?

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that song’s opening verse would have worked perfectly in this book!

Liked by 1 person

The reader can hum as they move along.

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Oh, this sounds like so much fun! Awesome review! 😀

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it was super fun! and it was a surprisingly hard book to review. don’t know why that was.

Liked by 1 person

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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