Goody Goblin is an outcast. Son of one of the meanest goblin chiefs Xanth has ever known, Goody was fed powdered reverse wood as an infant and is now kind, respectful and polite - everything, in short, that a male goblin ought not be. Minding his own business, a stranger gives him the Finger – guaranteed to irritate the mildest of folk, the Finger must be given away else it stir the holder to greater and greater annoyance. But Goody is too nice to pass the problem on to anyone else, so he takes the Finger to Good Magician Humphrey. In exchange for solving Goody’s problem, Humphrey sends him on a quest – to find a home for the pet peeve, a parrot who relishes in insulting all and sundry, using the voice of the being it’s perched on.
Hannah Barbarian, who wants to find true love, joins Goody as his protector. In the course of their quest Hannah and Goody accidentally launch an invasion of self-constructing robots who threatened to wholly overrun Xanth and destroy all living things therein. Can they rescue Xanth, happily house the peeve, and each find their one true loves?
This is almost the 30th novel set in Xanth, a fantasy land shaped like Florida where all humans and human crossbreeds have a unique magical talent which manifests around puberty, every variety of fantasy creature exists, and puns run rampant. As Anthony acknowledges, there is something of a formula – the protagonist seeks the help of Humphrey, first demonstrating their worthiness by navigating through three unique challenges, then paying for Humphrey’s (often cryptic) advice by fulfilling a task, quest or service. On the way the querent will have many adventures, often save Xanth from a terrible fate, run across former main characters, and fall in love.
It’s been a couple of years since I read the last Xanth instalment (Currant Events); I don’t know if it is me or Anthony who’s getting too old, but I’ve definitely lost my taste for the multitude of puns, the thesaurus that is Demon Metria (who usually states three or four synonyms for the word she wants before the correct variant is supplied, but in this novel went through as many as eight before being resolved (“I won’t virulent you.” “Won’t what me?” “Gnaw, cut, lacerate, chomp, masticate-” “Bite?” “Whatever”), and the strong undercurrent of sexism. Humphrey has five and a half wives, women pretend not to know about the effect they have but really reveal their panties to freak men out, men are really helpless pawns, and there are many older man/younger women pairings (across the series as a whole), There are certainly strong female characters, and I’m not accusing Anthony of rampant, overt chauvinism, but there is a pervasive feeling of adolescent male humour mixed with discomfort about women that makes me uncomfortable.
I enjoyed many of the former novels in this series, and Anthony wrote one of my favourite series of all time, the seven part Incarnations of Immortality (Death, Time, Fate which has three aspects, Nature, War, Satan and God) which I read every other year or so. The Xanth chronicles are still immensely popular, and I understand why Anthony continues them, but for me this was absolutely enough. – Alex