The Portable Door by Tom Holt. Or, Use the Door to Exit, ASAP

Read February 2021
Recommended for fans of snark
 ★     1/2  

After thirty years in emergency response and nursing, and a lifetime of being associated with law enforcement people, I like to think I’m somewhat of an expert on snark. What I’ve learned is that snark has a time and a place, and that too much of it distances us from the issues we care about, and the people we are trying to convince to care. It’s value is in the remark waking others up to possibilities and interpretations: like deconstructionism, it should come with an entrée of a solution. Otherwise, it’s just unrelenting peanut gallery throwing up straw barriers to caring.

Tom Holt/K.J. Parker seems to be at the advanced level of snark. If you love his books, I’m happy for you. But you should move along. I’m not kidding.

“Furthermore, he suspected that if Mr. Wurmtoter knew a tenth as much about people as he presumably did about dragons, he’d have taken a look at the cold glare in her eye and jumped out of the window. Paul let her go first, and took care to stay several paces behind her all the way back to the office.

Paul had believed in the existence of six a.m. for many years, just as he’d always believed in the yeti and the Loch Ness monster; in the same way, he’d always devoutly hoped that he’d never have to confront any of them face to face. But, somehow or other, he made it to the office door on time, to find Sophie already waiting. She was wearing a suit that had probably belonged to her grandmother, who had kept it for funerals.”

The fundamental problem with unrelenting snark is the distancing–verbal social-distancing, if you will. Sure, it’s funny, but as a character quips and sarcastically notes his way through his life (and they are usually ‘hims’), the are forgoing the possibility of real connection, both to the character and the setting. Used wisely, it can create the aura of world-weary disillusionment in the situation and institutions that surround him. Used poorly, it mostly just seems like an immature character who would rather be funny than thoughtful. It pokes fun rather than illuminates.

I tried The Portable Door because it was first in Holt’s urban fantasy-type series, about an everyday man who discovers a talent for magic and gets co-opted into the office managing the surreal. It wasn’t available at my library (always a sign), but I thought it a good idea to start the series at the beginning. And oh, what a beginning. So much exposition. Holt has certainly learned his lesson since, as Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City jumps right into the skirmishes. But reading Door made me feel like I was literally accompanying a young, disillusioned man on his introduction into the magical. Daily. Lots of repetition with very little curiosity, a critical impediment in an urban fantasy which should be introducing the reader to a magical world. “Poor me!” is the refrain through the book, an attitude I have little tolerance for. His rare moments of curiosity and interest are usually about women. It’s honestly boring. It’s male chick-lit, because I get very little about why I should care about him.

“Paul nodded. ‘You bet. I don’t like all this weird stuff. On the other hand, I need the job.’ 

‘Same here. If I went home and told them I’d jacked it in, they’d go mad. You know, scenes and melodrama. Give me the weirdness any day.’

Quietly, Paul blessed the thin girl’s parents for their attitude; because if she threw in her job, that’d be that, he’d probably never see her again. Mysterious swords and things with claws didn’t exactly appeal to him as integral parts of the working environment, but he was damned if he was going to let them come between him and a girl who’d actually smiled at him, twice.”

I read in a couple of fits, and finally got solidly distracted at 88%, per my kindle. Had it been a paper book, I would have done a solid skim to the end, but I find that much harder to do with kindle. Yep, that’s the kind of tension it had, that one could just be annoyed enough to walk away, even almost to the ending.

So: a main character that is both uninteresting and uninterested; a paucity of magical details and a plethora of needless inner monologue ones; and ‘magic’ that is basically about a sword in a stone and weirdness in the office means a solid ‘meh’ read. For those that read in the genre, it’s kind of a junior, less well-written, less action-oriented Laundry Files. Good luck.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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5 Responses to The Portable Door by Tom Holt. Or, Use the Door to Exit, ASAP

  1. pdtillman says:

    Heh. Thanks for the warning!

  2. Oh, dear. Male chick-lit, haha. I was hoping to finally read Tom Holt AND Sixteen Ways to Defend… because I heard such raving reviews of both. But your post adds some new layers and I often rely on your rating scale, so I think I’m not going to start these after all. 😦

    • thebookgator says:

      First, you honor me. My suggestion for Holt would be to try a later book–this one was very much near the beginning of his career, and Sixteen Ways was much better written. But as above, Sixteen Ways missed being my type of book because of the character and the unrelenting snark, and the focus on siege machines and the like. So I get why people would like it; I’m just not part of that people. 😉 Best of luck.

      • Lexlingua says:

        Well noted, but perhaps I’ll give these a shot on another optimistic day. Can’t say seige machines interest me much! I also do want to feel some empathy for the leads (and I think snark can get in the way of that)

      • thebookgator says:

        So fair! I’ve been told elsewhere that Holt has had a 30+ year career, so I’d also recommend checking out his other books if trying something by him interests you (and seige plans don’t. Because there’s quite a bit of that here).

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