The Magic Labyrinth, by Philip Jose Farmer, was the next book on my queue, as it was the next book in the Riverworld series. Dark Designs was hard to follow up, but I felt like The Magic Labyrinth was a fun read – while somewhat predictable, it had a certain flair to it that kept the story going.
This time I’ve certainly got spoilers, so go no further unless you want to hear them.
The main thing that caught my attention in this book, was the collapsing of the cast of characters. Over the first few books, Farmer introduces a number of characters, each with his/her own agenda, and each moving toward their own goal. In this book, many of them die off, and with the resurrections currently disabled, it seems like they’ve effectively been written out of the plot.
The main plot point of this book, I think, was the battle between Sam Clemens and Prince John (it was about half of the books 450 pages). I found it interesting how Farmer kept them so evenly matched (sometimes a bit too obviously) – it didn’t seem… …Necessary. From that standpoint, it didn’t really surprise me that much that both boats were sunk, and both captains died as a result. Sure, I was routing for Sam Clemens, but I wasn’t so surprised when he died (though, his death was the coolest, I think). I was a little surprised of the outcome of the Cyrano de Bergerac vs Francis Burton duel, but, again, the duel itself wasn’t too surprising.
The last bit, where Burton put together a crew to go to the tower, was probably the part that I liked the most. While I didn’t really care for Burton in the beginning, here he shows a bit more heroic qualities, and I think I appreciated it more. That Hermann Goring catches up to the group again was really interesting (and a bit deus ex machina because, let’s face it, how did he get past the obstacles that it took Joe Miller and Burton to overcome), especially as he also had the chance to show that he could be a hero in his own was as well.
I also actually really liked the info dump from X. There’s something to be said for the worldbuilding that happened in the last few pages; to tie up all the loose ends, without trivializing the setting. I actually found that the explanations gave more depth to the setting rather than closing things off, which speaks to Farmer’s excellent skill in this department.
Overall, I think The Magic Labyrinth is well worth the read. I still feel like Dark Designs is the better novel, overall, but this book provides a lot of good stuff at the end that makes the setting much more alive.