Finished all 8 of the Castle Perilous series of comedic fantasy books by John DeChancie
Right after I'd written that I was starting to look forward to the who's behind the castle invasion this time formula that had developed by the 4th book, the formula apparently promptly changed to, "Eh, these things are selling anyway, screw your expectations I'll write whatever I feel like!"
So the next 4 books were a mix of cozy mystery, surrealistic meta-commentary, a riff on the Sorcerer's Apprentice, and wacky satirical trope-mocking hijinks.
I liked them anyway, but they are kind of an acquired taste, since all the books really have in common content-wise besides the humour are the recurring characters, the multi-dimensional castle being a portal to many worlds, and thus someone getting lost and/or going on an adventure in one of the alternate-world aspects attached to the castle which is usually oddly analogous to various genre settings (20s Prohibition gangsters, Brave New Orwellian Dystopia, post-apocalyptic barbarian warlord tribes, I Can't Believe It's Not Troy!™, etc.), and separate chapters following each side-plot. Those are really the only things you can rely on to remain the same throughout the series.
Certainly the series keeps you guessing, but on the upside, if you don't care for one of the plot threads in any given book, you can easily skip it over and just read about any side-adventures that appeal to you. With that in mind, best/most enjoyable of the lot:
#3 Castle Kidnapped
: has the best version of the early books' "someone's trying to take over the castle" plot.
#5 Castle Murders
: slots a fairly nifty Agatha Christie-esque upper-class garden party murder mystery into a fantasy setting with magic. Plus it has a surprise Dorothy Sayers shout-out at the end.
#6 Castle Dreams
: awesomely funny surrealistic postmodernist meta-commentary with footnotes and little quizzes on the story and series with such reader activities as answering the True/False questions:
10. The price of this book is outrageous for a cheesy paperback. __
and Suggested Projects like:
2. Organize a toad-fling in your neighborhood. Call it “performance art” or “conceptual art.” Seek federal funding. The National Endowment for the Arts would be a good place to start.
I don't think I'd want the entire series to have been written like this (well, maybe one or two more books), but this volume was hugely entertaining.
Honourable mentions for awesome side stories go to:
#4 Castle War!
: while the castle is being invaded (again!) by evil duplicates from the mirror universe, there's a great golf game going on in what looks very much like Hell.
#8 Bride of the Castle
: the main plot isn't much, but it's got two great side stories:
- the down-on-his-luck medieval knight's efforts to escape a thoroughly encompassing grave-robbing curse (and the neverending tomb inscription is a hilarious must-read)
- the cozy manor murder mystery where the bodies keep piling up and in the end it turns out during the obligatory "get them all together to trick the murderer into confessing" scene that , and that this sort of thing regularly goes on in that world, which is probably the model for like Midsomer Murders or something.
Overall the series is a bit of a mixed bag, but an entertaining bag and I certainly don't regret spending the roughly $3 per volume I paid for these things during one of Fictionwise's deep-discount coupon sales.
Medium-high recommend for people who like offbeat comedic fantasy involving alternate worlds and a little light satire. But you should probably check the individual plot summaries and try a sample of each volume to see which one suits you best unless you intend to read them all.