"Properly describing Clay Johnson’s Off to See the Wizard is a lot like trying to explain the color purple to an anemic shoe box. You’re not likely to get very far, is what I’m saying. However, in the interests of this review, I’m going to try and do my best.
Off to See the Wizard is set in the land of the 16 realms, a parody of high fantasy classics filled with subverted tropes and…ahem…colorful characters. The story is told in frame, as said characters give their testimony of the events that take place over the course of the novel to the Grand Inquisitor, aka the reader. What unfurls is one of the most hilarious sequence of screw-ups I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.
It begins when Krevassius, Demon Lord of the ‘Misery Reach’ (the appropriately desolate prison land for all the degenerates of the 16 realms) sets out to woo the Misery Reach’s newest denizen, the Sorceress Nestra. Upon receiving questionable advice from the Misery Reach’s (self-appointed) matchmaker, Krevassius decides that, in order to gain the Sorceress’s attention, he needs to do something big. Specifically, and I quote: “End of the world big.”
So Krevassius, Demon Lord of the Misery Reach (who’d really rather have been a baker, all things considered) unleashes the curse of the Blood Chalice on the world, causing 1) a dwarf and a flock of crows to explode, and 2) the dead to rise from the grave and attack the living. All in an effort to get into a woman’s skirts. Which works, but, you know, zombies.
This leads us to the heroic team who assemble to find a way to stop the zombie threat: Galbraith, the wizard, who has perfected the art of running away. Azreal Gormrunner, the kitchen boy, a troubled soul deeply burdened by how no one seems to appreciate his poetic masterpieces. Harvey, the greatest swordsman in the world, who can’t for the life of him remember where he put his sword. Cassithelia, an elf-princess in training with something of a drinking problem. And Illena Borovcheck, Galbraith’s girlfriend and likely the only sane member of the group.
As you can see, this isn’t your typical fantasy adventure.
Personally, I enjoyed Off to See the Wizard immensely, to the point that people would stare at me on the train as I guffawed. Johnson combines great characterization with an eye for overturning the cliches that plague common works of high fantasy. His villains are relatable, even likable three-dimensional characters who don’t think of themselves as bad guys, per se. His heroes aren’t the most heroic bunch, but I found myself…if not rooting for them, then at least kicking back, breaking out the popcorn and cheering for their screw-ups.
Johnson does run into some problems with editing; I found several grammar and spelling issues, and occasionally the story became hard to follow as character perspectives changed and various unreliable narrators disagreed with each other over what happened.
That aside, I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. For instance, one of Galbraith the Wizard’s more droll lines: “Um…Excuse me gentlemen, but I think we have a slight problem. I do believe the dead once more hunger for the living,” had me rolling on the floor.
I rate Off to See the Wizard 4 out of 4 stars. It isn’t quite perfect; there are some technical issues with it, but on the whole, Johnson executes his parody with a deft hand and a clear love for the genre. The characters were brilliantly done, the adventure was well paced and hilarious, and most importantly, it was so much fun to read. I don’t like to rate books 4 out of 4 stars unless they’re exceptionally good, but this one really surprised me. If you’re in the mood for an adventure and a whole lot of laughs, this is the book for you.
(A small aside: this book contains adult themes and language. Very funny adult themes and language, but still. Reader discretion is advised.)"