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As others have noted, Peake is often spoken of in the same breath as Tolkein. They are undoubtedly two of the greatest English fantasy novelists of the twentieth century. But rather than thinking of Peake as similar to Tolkein, it's perhaps best to think of him as the anti-Tolkein. Both Peake and Tolkein are great at what they do, but they're up to rather different things. If The Lord of the Rings is a basically celebratory series that focuses on plot, Peake's Gormenghast books (not, by design, a trilogy, but the first three books of a longer series cut short by Peake's untimely death) are deeply cynical and are about character and, above all, setting. While Tolkein's world is full of magic, monsters, and a variety of non-human races, Peake's is largely without all these things.
I'm a longtime Tolkein fan who is now also a Peake fan. Plenty of people appreciate the qualities of both authors. But others love one and detest the other. For example, the great British novelist Michael Moorcock is a proponent of Peake and a detractor of Tolkein.
At any rate, this book is a classic that deserves a listen by those prepared for something un-Middle Earth-y. And Robert Whitfield's reading is truly outstanding, as he effectively brings to life the many characters who populate Peake's book.
31 of 32 people found this review helpful
I completely understand why a lot of readers would give this book a low rating. Many readers, and especially readers of fantasy, get very comfortable with the presence of cliches, and this book just doesn't give them any. Titus Groan doesn't have a grand good vs evil narrative, there is no sword play, nor wizards, nor damsels in distress, nor teenager-saves-the-world narrative. You get none of the usual formulas. The action is sparse, the language is thick, and the world is just sort of weird. It's not something that an average teenage fantasy fan will enjoy.
With that said, Titus Groan is a fantasy masterpiece. In its weird way, it's every bit as rich as Tolkien or Rowling. The characters are bizarrely entertaining, and the challenges they face are, if not quite the all-encompassing fight for civilization, nonetheless poignant and intriguing. As strange as the novel is, it feels more real than most fantasy.
Titus Groan is a novel without a contrived road-map, and it is as much high literature as it is fantasy. Good literature is challenging: it forces you to think, and if you engage in it, it is far more rewarding than a thousand sword and sorcerer novels. Readers who think in cliches will either fail to understand the novel or will grow frustrated at the meandering plot. But for those who like a challenge, who enjoy reading about a fantastical world for its own sake, and who have an attention span that hasn't been crippled by frenetic, pop-culture oriented fantasies, this book is well worth it. It's strange and rich and utterly unlike anything you're ever going to see again. It's beautiful.
41 of 43 people found this review helpful
I have never read this book and so its vastness, its pettiness, its eruptions of darkness came as a wonderful surprise to me. I found my self laughing out loud at some of the situations Peake constructed and gasping at the brutality of his darker moments. A wonderful book, wonderfully read.
13 of 14 people found this review helpful
I sympathise with the previous reviewer who gave up on this book, I almost did too. I bought it after a recommendation on Macbreak weekly, but it took most of the first part of the recording to capture me.
I think it's probably that after a fairly slow establishing of character and location, once the plot actually thickens, then it's compelling, and I came to enjoy the rather flowery descriptions, the strange interludes and the quirky weird world of the book. Even the names are brilliant: Flay and Swelter, Steerpike and Prunesqualor...
I think it's an excellent reading (though for some reason there's a repeated paragraph at the start of each audio chapter, at least in the second part of the download?) and the various voices of the characters are clearly recognisable by the time you reach the second half.
So, I will be downloading the next one and probably the third of the trilogy.
6 of 7 people found this review helpful