Tom Holt is a British author whose works can be described as comic urban fantasy mixed with Fractured Fairy Tales
. Most of his books are standalone, but he has a short series centering around J.W. Wells & Co.
(named after the sorcerer in the Gilbert and Sullivan
musical The Sorcerer
Holt's male protagonists are nearly all nerds with little social sense, and his female characters tend to be rock-hard, super-competent steamrollers (though they do tend be less competent if they are the actual protagonist rather than the love interest or other supporting character.) Holt's works often deal with the theme of love, though he's very cynical about it and often protrays it as an annoyance or even a disease (either because the subject knows he'll never get anywhere with his crushes, or because she's so desirable she's no longer interested).
Many of his works deconstruct
mythology from various cultures, or shove them into a modern setting and let them rip. He has several crossover characters, such as conspiracy theorist/reporter Danny Bennett and monster hunter Kurt Lundqvist.
His writing style is fast and entertaining, and is peppered with plays on cliches and idioms, often taking an idea in a common set of words and turning them Up to Eleven
. His plots are heavily powered by the Rule of Funny
and sometimes end in a jumble full of Plot Holes
- but funny Plot Holes
Holt has also written several historical novels (as Thomas Holt), and two sequels to E. F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia
Works with a page on this wiki:
- Overtime (1993)
- Here Comes the Sun (1993)
- Faust Among Equals (1994)
- Odds & Gods (1995)
- My Hero (1996)
- Paint Your Dragon (1996)
- Open Sesame (1997)
- Wish You Were Here (1998)
- Only Human (1999)
- Snow White and the Seven Samurai (1999)
- Valhalla (2000)
- Nothing But Blue Skies (2001)
- Little People (2002)
- Someone Like Me (2006)
- Barking (2007)
- Blonde Bombshell (2010)
- Doughnut (2013)
- When It's A Jar (2013)
- The Outsorcerer's Apprentice (2014)
- The Walled Orchard (1997)
- Alexander At The World's End (1999)
- Olympiad (2000)
- Song for Nero (2003)
- Meadowland (2005)
Mapp and Lucia:
- Lucia in Wartime (1985)
- Lucia Triumphant (1986)
This author's works include examples of:
- Action Survivor: Pretty much every one of his heroes.
- Agent Mulder: Danny Bennett, from his early works, a BBC journalist with a wide range of conspiracy theories, all tying to the ultimate power behind world history: The British Milk Marketing Board. Although he is slightly vindicated when he gets caught up with Montalban and the Lombard Bank in Flying Dutch
- Ambulance Chaser: the werewolf lawyers in Barking, quite literally.
- Author Catchphrase: "X appeared like a Romulan decloaking", in several novels.
- Black and Gray Morality: Paint Your Dragon does this to the story of Saint George and the Dragon. Both are absolute assholes, but the dragon seems a little more sympathetic...although considering he at one point annihilates an entire (occupied) theatre in an attempt to deal with George, this is more a statement on how unlikeable St. George is than anything else. The dragon's status as the Least Evil™ character is cemented at the end, when the two end up switching forms and George's first action as a dragon is to kill the entire audience for their deathmatch in order to ensure that nobody with a rocket launcher is lurking in the stands).
- Celestial Bureaucracy: Here Comes The Sun is entirely based on this trope. For example, a complaints form consists of a pure, 24-carat gold slab several acres in area, which is filled with so much bureaucratic crap that the actual complaint needs to be chiseled in microscopic writing in a millimetre-wide spot.
- Clap Your Hands If You Believe: spoofed in Open Sesame; a fairy provides medical care by shouting "I do believe in humans!" And again in Paint Your Dragon:
There's an urban folk-myth that every time a human says he doesn't believe in dragons, a dragon dies. This is unlikely, because if it were true, we'd spend half our lives shovelling thirty-foot corpses out of the highways with dumper trucks and the smell would be intolerable.
There's an old saying among dragons that every time a human says he doesn't believe in dragons, a human dies, and serve the cheeky bugger right.
- Conspiracy Theorist: Recurring character (or possibly multiple characters with the same name) Danny Bennett is convinced that the Milk Marketing Board is somehow connected to the assassination of JFK.
- Convenience Store Gift Shopping: Grailblazers reveals that Santa Claus is really one of the Wise Men who gave gifts to the infant Jesus, doing community service as punishment for the fact that (unlike his colleagues, who planned ahead and brought gold, frankincense and myrrh) he left it until the last minute and couldn't come up with anything better than a pair of socks.
- Crapsack World: In Ye Gods!, Prometheus gives Jason Derry a view of a world without him in order to show why it's so important he sides with him against the Jerkass Gods. In this world there's no such thing as a joke, everyone lives in fear of the gods all the time, and game shows are deadly. Jason's reaction is "I wouldn't want to live there, but I wouldn't want to live in Florida and plenty of people do."
- Deconstruction: Phaedra in The Walled Garden is a bit of a deconstruction of the usual Holt heroine (see description in the main paragraph) as her temper and shrewishness is portrayed as about as bearable as you might expect in real life - though she does get better. Holt also allows her to be flat out wrong on some subjects (she's a Flat Earth Atheist for instance.)
- Delivery Stork: Spoofed in Open Sesame, in which a fairyland "family planning" division works by shooting storks out of the air while they're delivering.
- Democracy Is Bad: A Song For Nero features an allegorical aside in which a city-state tries to create the "perfect" system of government, by combining the best features of Athenian democracy (everyone gets a say) and oligarchy (rule by an elite). One suggestion is essentially modern democracy (you vote for the leaders, and then they're in total control for a certain period), which is derided as combining the worst elements of both. (Namely, that oligarchic elites spend all their time fighting each other for status, and leaders who are reliant on the will of the people give them what they want, not what they need.)
- Diabolus ex Machina: A particularly cruel one in Little People, leading to a Downer Ending.
- Downer Ending: In Little People, due to a Diabolus ex Machina.
- External Retcon: In Paint Your Dragon, it is revealed that St. George was actually a cheating, murderous bastard, and the dragon was, well, not exactly the good guy, but certainly a much more sympathetic and stand-up fellow than George.
- Fantastic Racism: Absolutely slaughtered in Someone Like Me. Humans and monsters in a post-apocalyptic Earth have been fighting and killing each other because each sees the other as evil. Told entirely from the human point of view, the novel ends when the protagonist finds that one of the monsters knows how to talk, and is just as human as he is. However, he kills it anyway, because he'd been killing them for so long he wouldn't be able to face thinking of them as people.
- Fantasy Kitchen Sink: The same character, Lin Kortright, appears in both a book devoted to a Darker and Edgier Valhalla and one dedicated to a revisionist St. George and the Dragon.
- Fearless Fool: Jason in Ye Gods!
- Fur Against Fang: Vampires and werewolves just don't get along with each other in Barking. However, out-and-out war has been replaced by competition between law firms.
- God Is Inept: Here Comes The Sun features a Celestial Bureaucracy and a very hands-off God, and says that the world went wrong very early on due to the incompetence of one of the bureaucracy's employees. The heroine thinks she could have done better, and gets a chance to prove it.
- Heel-Face Turn: A meta example: Supernatural bounty hunter Kurt Lundquist goes from being the antagonist in Faust Among Equals to an ally for the protagonists in Odds and Gods and Paint Your Dragon.
- Historical-Domain Character: You'll never think about Aristophanes the same way again...
- Humanity Ensues: In Snow White and the Seven Samurai, the big bad wolf is turned into a handsome prince (by way of a frog), and isn't very happy about it.
- Interspecies Romance:
- In Nothing But Blue Skies, the protagonist is a female dragon disguised as a human, who develops a crush on a young human man.
- Djinn Rummy feature a genie who very reluctantly finds himself falling for a human.
- There have also been human/elf, human/god and weirder.
- Jerkass Genie: Some of the genies in Djinn Rummy positively delight in deliberately misinterpreting mortals' wishes.
- Jerkass Gods: Loads of them, but Odin in Valhalla is arguably the worst. Occasionally inverted; for example, God in Faust Among Equals is the nicest character in the book, and Odds And Gods is an example where Gods face off against Jerkass Humans.
- Literal Genie:
- In Djinn Rummy: when the genies get together of an evening at their local pub, they like to reminisce about the mortals they've tricked this way (or, at least, some of them do).
- In Wish You Were Here, jumping in Lake Okeewana is supposed to grant your heart's desire—but the spirit of the lake is good at creative interpretations.
- London England Syndrome: In Here Comes The Sun, a trainee weather spirit manages to get the Nile to flood Memphis, Tennessee.
- Magical Underpinnings of Reality: Here Comes The Sun is about a group of grumpy and bureaucratic beings responsible for ensuring the sun rises and the Nile delta floods and so on.
- Magic Versus Science: Open Sesame has some bizarre hybrid of several versions in the main plot and/or backstory. Magic and science exist in two different worlds—Real Life and Fantasyland—but that's mainly because science and reason have apparently been rooting out the fantasy problems for two millennia of brutal struggles, and using a wish from the Fairy Godfather functions much like smuggling a rabid dog across the English Channel.
- Magitek: Several of his books have examples, such as the magic mirror that runs Mirrors '95 in Snow White And The Seven Samauri or the various devices in the Portable Door series.
- Mayfly-December Romance: A common trope in his works, what with all the gods, immortal spirits, shapeshifting dragons, and whatnots, who often end up romantically entwined with mortals, willingly or otherwise.
- Metaphorgotten: Holt regularly includes some kind of brutal disjunction of "omelettes and eggs". Did you know that it is possible to make omelettes without shredding chickens, but it doesn't make as good television?
- Milkman Conspiracy: A literal milkman conspiracy as imagined by Danny Bennett, a journalist hellbent on proving that the real power behind world governments lies with... the Milk Marketing Board.
- Most Writers Are Writers: My Hero! features two writers; the protagonist is a writer of Thud and Blunder adventure stories, and the second is a mysteriously-vanished western writer who has gotten Trapped in TV Land, and needs the help of the first to escape from the story.
- A Mythology Is True: which one depends on the novel
- Negative Continuity: The increasingly paranoid presence of Danny Bennet suggests that most of the early comic fantasy is set in the same universe. But Who's Afraid of Beowulf? and Flying Dutch have entirely separate immortals as the inventor of computers, and there seem to be at least two incompatible Odins.
- Our Dragons Are Different: Nothing But Blue Skies is an Affectionate Parody of Eastern dragons and the associated mythology, with an emphasis on a) their powers of weather control and b) their ability to take human (and other) forms. The reason the British summer is usually canceled due to rain is that the main character is a dragon in human form, and doesn't have full control in that form. So it rains whenever she's annoyed. Which happens a lot. The plot concerns another dragon trapped in the form of a goldfish; the cover, naturally, shows a Western dragon crammed into a fishbowl.
- Our Genies Are Different: In Djinn Rummy, the genies are transdimensional beings (which is how they can fit into those bottles), and like to hang out together in their spare time and get drunk. On milk.
- Our Werewolves Are Different: In Barking, theriomorphy is transmitted in the classic style, and werewolves gain nigh-invulnerability in both human and wolf forms, including a massively extended lifespan, and most of the werewolf characters work for the same law firm, Ferris and Loop (a Meaningful Name, referencing "Fenris" and "Lupine"). They are of course rivals of the vampire firm Crosswoods.
- Pantheon Sitcom:
- Odds and Gods has gods from multiple pantheons, mostly all living in a retirement home, and still all squabbling.
- Ye Gods! is even more blatant; the millenia of being stuck together has given the Greek gods a big honking case of cabin fever and pretty much all they do is argue all day.
- Percussive Maintenance: In Odds and Gods, Thor managed to get a flying engine to work again merely by threatening to hit it with a hammer, which shows that even non-sentient machines know when to stop mucking about.
- Perspective Flip: Paint Your Dragon takes the general idea of 'St George vs the Dragon', and makes the point that (despite being part of the official 'Good' side) George is pretty much an evil, despicable man who likes to kill things.
- Popular Saying But: All over the place.
- Public Domain Artifact: Spoofed in Grailblazers, where the Grail is a bowl that was used at the Last Supper, which was miraculously transformed into Tupperware.
- Real World Episode: In My Hero, fictional characters clock out between chapters and negotiate with their agents for choice heroic roles, all the while actively bitching out their authors for shoddy plotting. Much of the book revolves around the misadventures of characters pulled into the real world, but since this vision of the real world is one in which mad Yorkshiremen build cricketers from body parts and a literary agent turns out to be planning the End of the World, the "this is reality" effect is rather diluted.
- Rule of Funny: his writing thrives on this.
- Shaggy Search Technique: Happens to Hamlet in My Hero, during a sequence that's supposed to be demonstrating that the Theory of Narrative Causality no longer applies but keeps getting undermined by the fact that (this being a Tom Holt novel) the Rule of Funny is still in full effect.
- Shout-Out: Only Human features something of a Terry Pratchett Shout-Out, in which a man sentenced to Ironic Hell for complaining to authors that their new stuff wasn't as good as their old stuff...was forced to read the same book over and over again for the rest of eternity. His final line was that he'd just gotten up to the part where "the tourist has just met the wizard".
- Signature Style: Holt has incredible fun with metaphors, cliches and truisms; if the book is full of metaphors taken to extremes, it's probably him. He also tends to feature mopey, nerdy males and rock-hard, super-efficient females. His stories also have an extremely cynical view of love, which is often portrayed as more of a nuisance or a disease than anything actually good.
- This Bear Was Framed: Inverted in the short story "Never Forget". During the Punic Wars, a highly unpopular Roman officer is found with his skull smashed in, and his personal and business enemies are heavily investigated. The investigator, being The Mole, accuses the general's most competent advisor. The actual killer, of course, is a captured elephant that was wounded by the victim in battle.
- The Three Wise Men: Grailblazers reveals that Santa Claus was one of the Wise Men, doing community service to expiate the sin of Convenience Store Gift Shopping for the Messiah; unlike his colleagues who planned ahead, he left things until the last minute and couldn't come up with anything better than a pair of socks.
- Throw the Dog a Bone: Holt's main characters tend to spend 99% of the book being attacked, manipulated, arrested, sued, sold, killed, brought back, hurled across the universe, turned into werewolves, killed again and vivisected. In most cases, at the end, they are duly given vast amounts of money, handed a significant area of land somewhere on the other side of the planet, and the Dark Forces of Weirdness kindly butt out of his relationship with the Love Interest. (This doesn't happen in every book, but it does seem to turn out this way more often than not).
- Time Police: The Time Wardens in Overtime.
- Time Travel for Fun and Profit: In Overtime, one firm guarantees investors a profit by sending their money back in time to invest in the Crusades! (It's complicated.)
- Trapped in TV Land: In My Hero, it's revealed that when a novel is written, a number of "actors" are hired from among the teeming population of characters and have to act it out. The actual plot is driven by a Western writer ending up trapped into his own novel, and then managing to get a message to an indifferently talented boilerplate fantasy author asking her to send the hero of her novels in to find him. The net result goes through everything from Pride and Prejudice to A Midsummer Night's Dream to Sherlock Holmes, in much the same way that a wrecking ball goes through a brick wall. Of note, it's revealed that in-universe, there's a number of openings linking reality and fiction, including Alice in Wonderland and - due to its massive collection of fiction - the basement of the Library of Congress, a hole which permits the fantasy author to get an autograph from Captain Kirk.
- The Unfavorite: several; this is common for his protagonists, who are often the least interesting or respected person in their family.
- Unicorn: In Grailblazers, the heroes at one point have to find a unicorn in order to use it as bait to capture a virgin. It turns out that modern unicorns are scruffy and unpleasant feral critters.
- Unreliable Expositor: Practically every book has at least one of these, often several, outrageously contradicting each other.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: The Eastern-style Dragons in Nothing But Blue Skies can shapeshift to become human, or, um, goldfish.
- War God: Mars appears in Ye Gods! Notable in that, since he is still expected to ride in the front of battle in bronze armour, regardless of technological advances, and since "the best definition of an immortal is someone who hasn't died yet", the device on his shield is now a CND logo.
- Weirdness Magnet: A great deal of his characters.
- What You Are in the Dark: In Ye Gods!, when Jason meets the old woman, she insists on their going through the whole spiel. When he says no one would know if they didn't, she says, "I will."
- Wounded Gazelle Gambit: One of Holt's near-interchangeable protagonists at one point remembers how, when left to play with a young cousin, the little rodent would at the first hint of boredom burst into tears and run out crying "Mummy, he hit me!" Since most of Tom Holt's protagonists are Butt Monkeys and/or Chew Toys, this is pretty much standard.