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Five Portraits by Piers Anthony

Five Portraits

by Piers Anthony

Series: Xanth (39)

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I've reviewed Anthony a bunch of times before, & I always have such mixed reactions to his stuff. I adored him as a kid/teen/young adult, and Anthony is the reason why I love to read today, as an adult. It's a bond I share with my dad - he handed me my first "adult" book (Golem in the Gears, by Anthony, part of the same Xanth series) in the summer before I started my forth grade year, and I've never looked back.

I enjoyed this one a bit more than the last one in the series; it's not as filled with puns (he explains in the author note he wrote this one ahead of schedule so there was less time for his mailbox to fill up with puns from fans; I always think it must be so nice that his fans write half his story for him). Puns are a part of Xanth as yarn is to a knitter, but the puns do get a bit old sometimes. Ironically, I missed the puns in this one, so I think I like them more than I think I do.

There's the usual sexual commentary Anthony always seems to make - maidens about to get raped, and then laughing about it two seconds after it almost happens - it bothered me a lot in his last novel, but I read it this time more as he meant it - social commentary / a parody.

I am thrilled to see that Anthony has finally introduced a gay character, too - it's about time, and kudos Piers Anthony!

free copy from netgalley in exchange for my honest review ( )
  anastaciaknits | Oct 29, 2016 |
Source: Publisher/Net Galley for review consideration
Originally posted on Old Bat's Belfry

Can a soulless Demoness learn friendship? Can a basilisk, who can kill with a look, become a loving guardian for five orphans? And can those five orphans, each with dangerous gifts, find new homes? Alot is at stake as the very future of Xanth rests on the shoulders of five frightened children.

♦ The Story. The same characters from Board Stiff continue their stories in this new Xanth installment. This is a bit unusual for a Xanth novel. There are plenty of characters that cross over and play bit parts in new books but an entire cast rarely makes a subsequent appearance.

However, this tale may contain familiar characters, but it is a much different story and I have to say -- a better one.

♦ What I Liked. Friendship, love, and relationships are explored from numerous perspectives and when I say explored I mean deeply. Piers Anthony has outdone himself with Five Portraits! As an added plus, some of the "cuteness" of his early novels is back, resulting in some great feel-good scenes.

This is also a thought provoking story. Board Stiff was pretty much about a group of people all trying to find their perfect mate. There was a common goal of saving Xanth but there were lots of individual goals to go with it. In this book however, the main goal (again saving Xanth but from a different threat) felt more urgent and less certain. The plight of the orphans added an emotional connection that was lacking in Board Stiff and having a central protagonist made things more personal. All of this resulted in a much tighter story and led to me giving it a five star rating as opposed to the four stars I gave Board Stiff.

Sadly there were also fewer puns but I barely noticed. The story itself was all the entertainment I could ask for and more. It is full of fun, adventure, danger, and uncertainty. There are monsters to defeat, puzzles to solve, personal demons to deal with and real demons interfering every step of the way. There is alot of personal growth and character development. It was easy to get sucked in and hard to put down. And of course it has its silly moments too.

♦ What I didn't like. There was some profanity that slipped past the "Bleep" censor. (Profanity used around or by children usually comes out as "Bleep!" or if they are very young, "Blip!") The slips were by design of course, along with explanations on when a word is being used clinically and when it is used as a curse word. In other situations the cussing fit the innate proclivities of some of Xanth's more violent residents. Along the same lines, there were a few too many potential rape scenes to suit me, but since this is satirical exaggeration it is supposed to make you feel uncomfortable on occasion. In these books you will find pure evil, extreme good and creatures simply being true to their natures. It all fits, even when things are particularly nasty.

♦ My Thoughts. There is a priceless afterword at the conclusion of this book where Piers Anthony explains his use of parody and apologizes for the lack of a profusion of puns. He also explains the writing process behind this book and of course credits the puns he did use. This addendum to the book alone was almost worth the price of admission.

I did have a technical issue with him calling his writing a series of parodies, while I consider them to be satirical, but it is his book. If he says he employes parodies, well then parodies it is. I don't care what they are called; they explore the dark depths of mankind's less endearing qualities while providing laugh out loud comic relief.

I call it genius!

♦ Conclusion. You can read this book without reading Board Stiff first. There are enough "what has gone before" scenes to bring you up to speed but I recommend reading #38 anyway. That way you'll experience the full flavor of the characters involved. Be aware that while this book may feature young children with coming of age issues, it addresses some very adult subjects along the way. Be prepared to squirm at times but also be prepared for sudden urges to laugh or to hug the people you love. This novel is a gem of diversity and a lesson in the true meaning of friendship. Easily one of the best comedic fantasies ever written.

@Mulluane ( )
1 vote Mulluane | Oct 21, 2014 |
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"Astrid Basilisk ... a very pretty girl whose very glance is deadly, yet she's a nice person whose selfless effort to save five difficult children from future Xanth is thoroughly worthy"--Page 4 of cover.

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