At age eight, Mike Higgins was playing Captain Kirk in his backyard when he spotted a tiny, green-skinned man with pointy ears, leaning against a head of lettuce and smoking a hand-rolled cigarette. “‘Mummy, mummy,’ I yelled out as I ran back into the house. Guess what! There are Vulcans at the bottom of our garden!’” Being the boy who saw an elf shapes the course of his life from that point forward—a life fraught with inadequacy and disappointment, conflict with his rich stepfather, mediocrity at his boarding school, off-and-on romance with a sharp-tongued co-ed named Cruella, awkwardness at talking with girls, and troubles with the authorities—so, basically, the quintessence of being a young British male. Only most young blokes don’t stumble into an adventure in Elfland, skip fifteen years of their own life, and come back to find out they’ve won two Nobel Prizes after being declared dead. And I’m guessing that most of them can’t tell the tale in a way that packs in as much heartbreaking honesty as this book does, while saving room for an average of one laugh per paragraph.
One Christmas holiday home from school, Mike discovers that there may be more to his boyhood elf sighting than a trick of the mind. On his first night back, he literally trips and falls on one elf. Soon afterward, through scientific study, he spots a few more. When he gets back to school, he realizes that one of the elves has come with him, stowed away in his luggage. His pint-sized friend explains that everybody in the human world has a counterpart in Elfland, where everyone is nice and happy and good-looking, brilliant at maths and physics, but otherwise a bit thick. In our world, their personality turns sour—though part of that may be a result of Mike’s stepdad shrinking them down to six inches tall and working them like slaves in his garden and shoe factory. All this is tied up with Mike’s own, untold origin story—the half-elf son of a girl who… well, if I told you, you wouldn’t believe me. You’ll have to read it for yourself.
And I daresay you will enjoy finding out not only what makes Mike so special. Because of his unique knowledge and abilities, he is the only one who can save the elves from his wicked stepfather. But before he can do that, he must survive several interdimensional crossings, elude police custody, earn the trust of a girl whose love for him ruined her life, join the ranks of the little people, and find an answer to the question “Why me?” other than, “Because everyone else is still at lunch.” And finally, with the fate of worlds in his hands, he must lose to win. It’s a perfect example of contemporary fantasy-comedy, with a main character who fits Stephen Fry’s description of the classic British comic to a tee. And it’s also a story that may leave you surprisingly moved at the end.
Besides this book, Tom Holt has also written dozens of novels since the 1980s, including many more in the humorous sci-fi and fantasy line, plus historical novels set in ancient Greece, and a quartet of books about a supernatural version of the company in TV’s The Office. A few of his titles include Earth, Air, Fire and Custard; Expecting Someone Taller; Who’s Afraid of Beowulf?; Grailblazers; Djinn Rummy; Paint Your Dragon; Snow White and the Seven Samurai; and Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages. So far I have only read this one book by him, but it’s been an exciting discovery. I plan to raid the public library for more of the same.