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Esrever Doom
by Piers Anthony
Tor, 2013, $25.99, 333pp
Release Date: October 22, 2013
I’ve read dozens of Piers Anthony’s books, and since I like games and puns, two of my favorites are Split Infinity and Macroscope. (A third is On a Pale Horse.) The Xanth series doesn’t do as much with games, but there are always quests, which are a kind of game, and puns abound. Right around the time panties became a major issue in the Xanth ‘verse I stopped reading them, but recent books in the series have wooed me back. Piers Anthony always has good things to share with his readers, and I like spending time with him and the characters, new and old, who populate Xanth.

The title, Esrever Doom, is Mood Reversal spelled backward, and the plot is this: a young man, Kody (Why, Doc? Spelled backwards, sort of), finds himself hospitalized, and while the doctors never answer his questions, they do warn him that he may experience mood reversal as a side effect of anesthesia.

Kody is put under for surgery… and wakes up in a grey in-between place, from which he makes his way into Xanth.

There have been many ways that Mundane humans wind up in Xanth, but for most of them it proves to be a one-way trip. Kody knows he is only dreaming, he knows he is only visiting, and he knows that reversal is the key to and theme of his dream-adventure. So he strives for a certain objectivity, questioning the validity of how he interprets what he sees, what he feels, even what he thinks. And it turns out that his guest status, and this questioning objectivity, is just what Xanth needs – desperately!

Someone had inflicted a powerful curse on Xanth which reverses visual perceptions. Ugly looks beautiful, beautiful looks disgusting, and the more lovely a creature was before, the more revolting she or he is now to every other denizen of Xanth. Marriages, alliances, and romances are in utter disarray. The wizards and sorceresses of Xanth realize that a curse of this magnitude and duration indicates that a Demon is involved, and they guess, correctly, that only someone immune to the reversal can break the spell.

Kody undertakes the hero’s journey and meets important companions: Zosi the Zombie, who hopes to find a solution to the Zombie shortage; the Maiden Eukay, who want to master her magical ability; the Zap, a griffin cursed with a soul; Ivan, who is simply wandering; and Naomi, a playfully seductive Naga, who wants to find a way to stop the poachers who kill nagas for their valuable snakeskins, from which nagahide is made. Many protagonists from previous Xanth novels make appearances as well, including one of my favorites, the Nightmare stallion, and storylines of recent novels get forwarded nicely. Sure, you can see some of the outcomes and resolutions a mile away, but the author works in surprises and twists along the way.

The distinctive hallmark of an Anthony book is actually not the puns, but the Piers perspective. I love his description of a blog-bog on pages 92-93, and the Bogeyman is one of his best ever personifications of villainy. As for the perpetrator of the curse, there is some really good ambiguity to this character.

“Mood reversal”, by the way, is a cute euphemism for the suicidal depression that can be induced by general anesthesia drugs. Luckily, the author himself was not so affected in the wake of his own Mundane surgery. Anthony provides a bio-update at the end of his books, and also gives full credit to the punsters who send in suggestions for him to use in his novels. For this alone, I love him. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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