Between 1988 and 1994, John DeChancie put out 8 novels in his Castle Perilous series, which revolves around Castle Perilous, whose lord is Incarnadine, a sorcerer. Within the castle lay 144,000 doors (or "aspects") which lead to other parallel universes. Now some twenty years later, the author returns with the ninth book in the franchise, The Pirates of Perilous. The novel, more or less, reintroduces the characters after this long hiatus and (probably) serves as a good prequel to the previous eight books.
While it’s been equally that long since I finished the series (and have never re-read them), I was impressed with the way DeChancie balanced out catching us up on what has been happening with our old friends, and telling an adventure story that borrows many elements from real history, Hollywood and pop culture.
It's been years since Gene Ferraro has had a real adventure. Bored and unable to find a dimension that can satisfy his sudden desire to be a pirate (shades of Pirates of the Caribbean are threaded throughout the book, though its more real history than the Disney version [plus a little of Tim Powers, but I may be just ever hopeful]) he asks Shelia to use her magical skills to create (I guess) a pocket universe by using a Living Picture spell so Gene can wander into a image of a pirate ship. As always, things go awry, trapping Gene and Linda in a world of pirates, zombies, vampires and slavery. Meanwhile, the Castle, always the source of the problems with everyone’s magic, decides to use Cleve Dalton (who has avoided gaining any powers from the Castle) in an attempt to undo 5,000 years of entrapment. Lord Incarnadine, making the connection between Dalton’s problems and the two trapped in a picture, decides that he needs to fix the Castle once and for all, but to do so will violate not just the Castle’s universe, the entire Multiverse.
While he sticks to the short chapters like the previous books, he expands on the characters, giving them a bit more to do, and also give us a deeper look into their minds and motivations; he also serves up a few more subplots than those old Ace Paperback versions did.
Yes, there are a lot of references to past adventures and absent characters, which may frustrate new readers if they had not read the previous books, but like I said, it’s been 20 years since I read these books, so you could say I’m new to the franchise again. So if someone was to pick up this book (and the previous eight are out of print, but they can be found on occasion at used bookstores or through Amazon or Powell’s websites and I think they're all available for downloading on an e-reader) it can still be read as a prelude to the others.
While the series was sold as humorous fantasy novels (which were the rage back in the day), the Castle Perilous books are more than one genre; with 144,000 aspects this series can be more than one genre (as it proved in its previous life). DeChanice still fills the books with a lot of laughs, but it’s not hard core fantasy either. It’s just fresh, light, and always fun.
While the author, in his forward, gives no real reason of why he returned to the series after such a long hiatus, he does join Stephen R. Donaldson (and soon Tad Williams) as a writer revisiting an interesting time in history when fantasy novels were more fun and less savage.