Jesse Baruffi’s debut novel, Otto von Trapezoid & The Empress of Thieves, is the sort of comedic piece you don’t get to see too often. It is, at once, self-aware, and yet not going in for any breakage of the 4th wall. That is something pretty nifty all by itself.
What it also is is pointed, trope busting, and well constructed. The characters inhabit a world skewed from any we know – with possessive sea serpents, superhumans, spacecraft, and secret bases. Volcano and space station, no less.
There is also a tendency to take stereotypes into the realm of absurdity – the hacker/gamer girl with a kitty obsession, the cop repeating everything the heroine says as a joke (She want’s to know how er got her, boys!) for example. We also get some…pointed commentary. The UN is a joke, obsessing with their go-kart track and basically acting like ill-behaved 5 year olds. There is the family so obsessed with clinging to fleeting fame they will pimp out their kids on TV. There is the schnitzel*.
Across the board, there is mad science (not steampunk, more Dr. Horrible), insane slapsticky physics, and a casual disregard for reality. Otto von Trapezoid & The Empress of Thieves is almost 100% non-stop goofy, and a great palate cleanser from my usual slightly darker fare.
Ah, the below-the-fold bit. Where the knives come out, and the positives above the fold are negated.
Sorry, not so much here. I really liked this. I like it more since reading it than I did while reading it, and it is that palate-cleansing aspect that drives that like. There is, simply, nothing off limits here. Baruffi never quits, and this creates some just laugh out loud funny moments.
And here is the critical part – Baruffi never quits. While far from as in need of editors as that last Potter book, there is a bit too much of a feeling that he tossed everything up to the wall, and used whatever didn’t bounce right back. He hits everything, leaving little room to return to the world, and not everything works. Sometimes less is more, and that didn’t get much airing here.
The book also could benefit from being better paced – perhaps into a replication of a serial novel, or even pair of novellas. Something to let there be a better way of breaking things apart. As it stands, the pacing is tiring, and that is something that points to needing a bit more editing.
Do not, however, let that stop you – this is really amazing, and a ton of fun.
*A word on the schnitzel – many years back the very talented Benn Dunn had a comic called Ninja High School. In that comic existed Professor Steamhead (the world can be saved by steam!). Everything was steam-powered, steam-inspired, or otherwise steam-focused for this character. In the case of Lena & Moritz, replace ‘steam’ with ‘schnitzel’, and you get the idea. There feels like a connection – not a knock-off, Lena & Moritz draw from a few sources – but more of an homage. Whatever the case may be, it was pretty interesting, and good to see someone else seeming to know a semi-obscure comic.