Love potions without number


Tom Holt The Portable Door Orbit 2004

Tom Holt is a respected comic fantasy writer, whose only other work I was previously aware of was Who’s Afraid of Beowulf? So I was pleased to have this novel recommended to me, if only to see if Holt’s inventiveness extends just to witty parodic titles like Faust Among Equals, Paint Your Dragon and Grailblazers.

The answer is, it doesn’t. This is a rich smorgasbord of a book, amusing and thoughtful at the same time. The hero, Paul Carpenter, goes for interview at the distinctly dodgy firm of J W Wells & Co where he meets the apparently mind-reading Sophie, and their world is turned on its head by what they uncover there. You know that something is not quite right when Paul goes home one night and can’t help noticing “the very large block of stone resting halfway between the washbasin and the bed, and the very large, shiny double-handed sword that was stuck in it”.

There are other Arthurian echoes too in the very Tristan und Isolde love philtre, though Gilbert & Sullivan operetta rather than Wagnerian music-drama is the relevant influence here: the firm of J W Wells & Co and the love-potion theme are apparently both borrowed from the duo’s 1877 collaboration The Sorcerer.

The door of the title is a neat conceit (as well as linguistic pun: the Latin for ‘gate’ is porta) though on occasion it seems to lead to logical non-sequiturs, even for a comic fantasy novel. Still, while both plotting and characterisation are lively I’m less certain whether I’d now be tempted by the sequel In Your Dreams and its successors and the prospect of yet more sustained whimsy. Maybe in due course.

Incidentally, the author puts in a guest appearance in Diana Wynne Jones’ own comic fantasy The Dark Lord of Derkholm, though not quite as himself.

December 2012 review revised and updated

Was Holt's portable door inspired by the portable holes in Yellow Submarine?
Was Holt’s portable door inspired by the portable holes in the 1968 film Yellow Submarine?

4 thoughts on “Love potions without number

    1. Yes, I don’t normally go for comic fantasy but I’m almost ready for another, and I fancy a Tom Holt too. But only after I’ve whittled down my current Great Wall of Fiction…


  1. I’m a sucker for catchy titles. I’ve never heard of Holt but with titles like these, who can resist? Good think I’m making room on my shelves, because once again, you’ve managed to add to my collection.


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