Chris Smith’s new adventure story is a fun and light-hearted addition to the epic fantasy genre. Frankie Best is a relatable hero for young readers. She knows that there is nothing more important in life than being connected to your friends with WiFi and a smartphone, and she knows that little brothers who talk about orcs and goblins all the time are totally lame. She is rather disappointed, therefore, when she finds herself stuck at her boring old grandfather’s house for the summer with her annoying little brother, Joel.
Within hours of their arrival, the siblings discover that their grandfather is actually the custodian of a magical realm called Parralelia. This is unbearable news for Frankie, who is forced to accept – when Grandad is kidnapped – that she is just going to have to go on a big quest with lots of silly fantasy creatures. Very soon, she has unwittingly joined the Fellowship of the Bacon Roll and is surrounded by the brave warriors, noble sidekicks, mysterious double-crossers and conflicted villains that one would expect to see in any generic fantasy story.
Parralelia is a complex realm with a fully developed history that Smith revels in describing. To have any chance of rescuing her grandfather, Frankie has to get up to speed, quickly, with all the rules and lore of the genre (luckily, Joel is usually on hand to help, in a very annoying way). As the true nature of her quest is revealed, Frankie begins to question her priorities: perhaps there is room in her life for a little magic, after all.
Frankie Best Hates Quests is a love letter to the great sci-fi/fantasy epic novels, especially Tolkien. Heroes perpetually leap from frying pan to fire and there is even a chapter entitled ‘There and Back Again’. Smith even cites the rules of the genre explicitly to readers, reminding them, for example, that every villain has a whole in their plan. What is original, however, is the voice of Frankie. She provides a running commentary in the form of snide comments and scornful remarks that remind readers just how silly all this fantasy stuff is. It is an effective device that adds humour and occasional respite from a thrilling pace but, at times, it feels unnecessary and somewhat undermines the story – which is genuinely tense and dramatic.
Parallelia is a land full of imaginative details and engaging, original characters (notwithstanding the disappointingly stereotypical Princess Prince). Even if readers hate quests as much as Frankie does, they will find the page-turning excitement on offer very hard to resist.