Review: OverLondon by George Penney

OverLondon by George Penney & Tony Johnson

Bjørn reviews OverLondon by George Penney & Tony Johnson, the first book in a comedic fantasy series, Over London.

About the Book
Series:Over London #1
Genre:Fantasy, Humor, Satire, Comedy
Publisher:Swashbuckler Press
Date of Publishing:September 12, 2023
Trigger Warnings:
Page count:358
Book Blurb
OverLondon by George Penney & Tony Johnson

Priests from OverLondon’s Church of Vengeful Acquisition are exploding. Is the cause divine retribution, ballistic undergarments or something more sinister? If only the city had a professional private investigator…

Luckily, notorious pirate—turned privateer—Captain Alex Reign, has just narrowly escaped the hang man’s noose to establish the Reign Agency in Drury Lane. She needs cash fast and will take any job, even if failure means facing an inconveniently messy end. But what’s a little danger to a professional swashbuckler?

Armed with nothing but her roguish wit, her reliably unreliable crew and a rogue artificer experiencing a mortal crisis, Alex is convinced they’ll have this crime solved and the reward pocketed by teatime.

To solve their first case, all they must do is survive while navigating rampaging nuns, clockwork horrors, confectionary gangsters, piratical florists, malevolent urchins, military-grade statuary, weaponized blasphemy and sexual whales.

How hard can it possibly be?

Quote of the Book
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“What’s that thing called when a snake eats its own tail?”
“Regret?” Flora asked.”

Song of the Book

Reviewer’s – this one’s, at least – worst nightmare is promising someone nice to review a book that turns out to just be bad. I feel I can’t DNF and one-star it, because I promised. There’s little to be said that isn’t, well, “buk bad, don’t buy buk.” If it were middling, at least, I would be able to wrap my real feelings into a cocoon of sentences that mean little, such as “very promising beginning” or “a rather exciting plot twist…”

My greatest pleasure, on the other hand, is finding a book that I can wholeheartedly love, but it has just enough problems (one) that I don’t sound like I was hired to advertise it. This. This is that book.

Welcome to OverLondon, where in his alternative timeline (possibly in OverLondon…?) Sir Terry Pratchett was born to work on the 80s BBC sitcoms, including, but by far not limited to, ‘Allo ‘Allo. I had this book on my e-reader for, uh, yes, a while. I was a bit afraid that it wouldn’t be good. Humour is subjective. If you want to know what the future will definitely not bring, I’m your man. I’d probably have a prosperous business in OverLondon. I started reading late in the evening, nearly wet my pants from laughing so hard before finishing page two, and realised that if I want to get sleepy, ever, I have to avoid this book after 11pm.

I try not to give spoilers, so I’ll just say that the worldbuilding is astounding. There’s so much imagination and imagery in OverLondon, most of it not (too) disturbing. I love the trinkets. I love the idea of OverLondon (and OverParis, and OverKrakow…) I love Alex the Dread Currently Private Ear Purple Reign. Actually, I love all of the characters, because they’re over-the-top stereotypical and fleshed out. The main villain, who is a villainous villain of the villainous variety, makes me roar with laughter with his Clever Schemes even before he takes to speaking in special accent to confuse Sid, who, in his defence, is easily confused. I have a crush on Gregor, who is, embarrassingly, a badger-man. At least, unlike my other crush, Alex, he’s not a woman. (Not that Alex likes being called that.)

Sometimes, running jokes – in general, not here – overstay their welcome. The one about Alex’s height was just about to become irritating when it fades out – exactly at the right time. The Ye Olde Englishe stayed around just a bit too long (Elias’s notes killed the fun for me). And the beginning does feature the words that make me develop hives: “As you know.” But for every Mortalitye Poole there’s a Big Basil the Faulty Clock and the best (worst) clothing. And the Cries. Also, where HL Tinsley has floating nuns (more about this soon…), Penney has exploding priests and Bad Habits. (An Almodóvar reference? Bonus points if yes. It’s okay if no. I laughed anyway and that’s what matters.)

OverLondon sparkles with wit and, even though sometimes the jokes take over the plot, this paradoxically evens the plot. The book is also self-aware, switching to present tense for infodumps that don’t feel like infodumps. Some jokes are in very, very bad taste. Bad, delicious taste. While not quite breaking the fourth wall, OverLondon nods and winks at the reader. What Penney does with the English language (and the priests) is a sacrilege. I’m a Norse heathen, we don’t have the concept of sin, and so I enjoyed all of it. 

I don’t know whether OverLondon is a stand-alone or first in a series (the cover says “A Reign Agency Investigation,” so I hope for the latter). No matter what, I want more. George Penney’s bio says she “would like to be eaten on her hundredth birthday by a low-flying great white [shark].” I don’t know how old she is, but I hope the date is as far away in the future as the humankind lasts, which admittedly is not very long. (Even the acknowledgments in the book made me chuckle.) Perfect read at the perfect time. So, maybe it’s good that I took a decade… 

I fully recommend this book to everyone who enjoys satire, misses Sir Terry, and loves British humour. So, everyone with good taste. As in, my taste. Will Americans appreciate it? I wouldn’t know. (Let me know, Americans.)

PS. I kind of want to know about the haye and the twig, but not enough to find out.

Our Judgement
They Shall Be Remembered - 4.5 Crowns

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