Friday, 11 November 2011

Review | The Japanese Devil Fish Girl (and Other Unnatural Attractions) - Robert Rankin

Robert Rankin is one of my favourite comic fantasy authors: a tricky genre at the best of times. He's also one of the most... hit and miss.

This time, unfortunately, I think he might have stumbled. The Japanese Devil Fish Girl (I'll forgo the rest of the title - brevity's important!) is a step sideways for Rankin, away from the rampant insanity of his normal romps, and more firmly into the steampunk subgenre. This isn't to say that the novel is ordinary: not a bit of it! Monkey butlers, comic dialogue, Hugo Rune (the guru's guru) and the titular 'Japanese Devil Fish Girl' all come in. But it does have a plot, and is far more a farfetched adventure story than his previous titles. And it follows a typically clueless - if likeable - protagonist...

George Fox, zany assistant! to Professor Coffin (born Snodgrass). Possessed of a rapidly decaying pickled Martian as a spectacle, and of a desire to avoid caring for said foul-smelling Martian, Fox visits a fellow showman's booth: where he is predicted to locate the legendary Japanese Devil Fish Girl. What is this? Why, a legendary creature - and for Professor Coffin, a potential spectacle. So the manipulative Coffin, and George set out for Japan by airship - along with a stowaway Ada Lovelace, a monkey butler, and of course some actual passengers.

And after that? Well, let us merely say that British space supremacy, the fate of the solar system, and Professor Coffin's fortune become involved. I'm not faulting this - Rankin likes escalation, and setting a light-hearted steampunk adventure story instead of a plotless comedy is fine wth me. It's the ending, however, where he falls short: it becomes more serious, and with some of the cliches involved this time round, it just didn't work for me. Use of a deus-ex-machina is fine - for comedy. It's when things take a turn for the sober(er) that Rankin falters a little.

Still, it's fun. And as always, Rankin really brings George Fox, the enjoyably pragmatic (but villinous) Coffin, and ada Lovelace to life. Although I'll admit a preference for Darwin the monkey butler, who was more competent than most of the humans involved...

This is a light-hearted, fast-paced adventure with a lot of steampunk flavouring: not as funny as some of Rankin's previous, but it only really falters at the ending. It's well worth reading for the rest of the book. And, of course, for Darwin.

Have you read this book, or plan to? Comment and tell me below!


  1. That actually sounds really cool! too bad the ending was a dud. :(

  2. Robert Rankin's always pretty cool, yep! The thing is, he gets away with crazy deus-ex-machina endings becuase they're funny, but when he moves into the slightly less insane and sill tries to do them... they don't work. Besides, power of love - *Reviewer cliche sense kicks in!*

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