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Literature / Falling Sideways

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"Would it be all right," David asked, "if I burst into tears at this point?"

Falling Sideways is a comic fantasy novel by Tom Holt; one of his most bizarre. The book is full of frogs. One of whom may be God.

David Perkins is in love with Phillipa Levens, the fifth marchioness of Ipswich, who was burned as a witch hundreds of years before he was born. He saw her painting in a museum when he was twelve, and it was love at first sight. Now, it's twenty-one years later, and he has just been able to feed his obsession by buying a lock of her hair at auction, when he spots an ad for "Honest John's House of Clones". Which is puzzling, because, as far as he knows, cloning costs millions, and has only been attempted with sheep. Nevertheless, Honest John assures David he can do the job for fifty pounds. Seventy-five, tops. And soon, David finds himself heading home with a woman who is unconscious, naked, and, surprisingly, bright green. (Honest John assured him the effect will fade in a few days.)

The next morning, Phillipa wakes up, and seems completely unsurprised to find herself in a strange apartment, centuries in the future. Then things begin to get strange, and soon David finds himself on the run, framed for murder, while the policemen chasing him keep turning into frogs, and he keeps getting rescued by super-intelligent alien frogs who may have planned his whole life centuries in advance.

The book becomes one long Mind Screw, as David uncovers layer after layer of truth, each of which turns out to be a new layer of lies.

Tropes in this work:

  • Action Survivor: David Perkins, protagonist and hapless nebbish.
  • Bewitched Amphibians: Intelligent alien frogs who came to Earth long ago have the power to make themselves seem human, and to make humans appear and act like frogs. The prince isn't really a frog, but the princess is!
    • It also Deconstructs the notion that the Delusions of Doghood variant is more benign than this trope. As one character puts it, a person made to think they are a frog is as good as dead, because how long would you expect the average adult human to survive subsisting on nothing but flies?
  • Clone by Conversion / Replacement Goldfish: One version of David, when his Phillipa died,note  decided to simply hypnotize one of the girls from the village (and himself) into thinking she was Phillipa. Needless to say, when this "Phillipa" found out, she was pissed.
  • Clone Angst: After being dumped by the first Phillipa clone, David sneaks into Honest John's to make a second one, who is not-at-all pleased to find that she's a clone of a clone, and not part of the centuries-long plot her father set up.
  • Forced Transformation: Many, many characters get turned into frogs. Or made to think they're frogs. Or made to seem like frogs to others. Or various combinations. Sometimes frogs get turned into people, which, for the super-intelligent alien frogs in the story actually pretty much counts as this trope. There's a lot of frogs.
  • Honest John's Dealership: Honest John's House of Clones matches both the name and the trope.
  • Jail Bake: Inverted: Someone hides a cake in a file. As in, a file folder. It was entirely for the sake of the pun.
  • Loophole Abuse: The alien frogs have a very clear rule about Thou Shalt Not Kill. They do not have a very clear rule about Thou Shalt Not Make People Believe Themselves To Be Frogs And Therefore Starve To Death On An Unsuitable Diet.
  • Love Before First Sight: how the story starts: David fell in love with a painting of a long-dead marchioness and witch.
  • Rule of Funny: Many (most?) of the events of the story have little more justification than this.
  • Rules Lawyer: An entire alien race. They managed to rip a gargantuan loophole in Thou Shalt Not Kill.
  • Thou Shall Not Kill: The alien frogs had this as a rule. They also had a very high level of technology and the collective mindset of a Rules Lawyer. As in, it's OK to make people believe themselves to be frogs and eat nothing but flies, because they have a rule saying "Thou Shalt Not Kill" but not "Thou Shalt Not Make People Feed Themselves Horribly Inadequate Diets".
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: After Phillipa's father (an Unreliable Expositor) reveals that David was created to bring Phillipa back to life, but was never intended to get the girl, he offers to set David up with a comfortable life in British Columbia.
  • Unreliable Expositor: Just about everyone who tries to help David and explain what's going on turns out to be this, leading him further down the rabbit hole. Fortunately it's all sorted out when one character points at the sky, causing giant fiery words to appear: Yes, this is the real world, it's all true. Regards, God.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: The alien frogs can appear as humans when they wish.
  • Wimp Fight: David gets into a fight with another man on a UFO. Following both of them making asses of themselves and falling around, the non-protagonist one is defeated when he slides into the wall and knocks himself out. The narration actually lampshades how balanced it was, with neither having any meaningful ability to hurt the other.
  • Zig-Zagging Trope: The entire point of the book. The description of the backstory of the major players is revised, revisited and completely contradicted every two or three chapters, and keeping track of all the lies (and trying to fit it into the events of the book) becomes a big brain-hurting exercise. It doesn't help that, at the end, there's still plenty of huge Plot Holes.