The Bookwyrm's Review of Harpyness Is Only Skin Deep by D.H. Willison
Author: D. H. Willison
Length: 297 Pages
Release Date: January 20, 2020
Purchase on Amazon
I've noticed a trend lately towards edgy, dark and moody fantasy. Even the comedic stuff a lot of time has an edge to it. I am always on the look for stuff that reminds me of my favorites from when I was younger, like books Craig Shaw Gardener, Piers Anthony, Esther Friesner, Lawrence Watt-Evans and Kyra Dalkey used to, and in fact, still do, write. Fun, lighter fare that still tells an interesting story, with good characters on fun adventures. I'm happy to say that Harpiness Is Only Skin Deep is just such a book, and fits in well with the company I mentioned earlier.
Darin is a regular guy in his 20's just getting by, going nowhere fast. Hearing from some gaming friends about the newest experience in gaming, Darin follows the instructions to find how to join. He discovers the new game is no game at all. Its a chance to travel to another dimension, one that's a real fantasy world. Since he's not rich, he can't just go for a visit. Instead, we will be transferred there permanently, and a visitor from another dimension will take over his life. Signing the contract to travel to a world called Arvia, which is listed to have only small creatures and a low mortality rate for visitors, Darin gets his affairs in order. Meeting his contact to be sent over, Darin is told there were a couple typos in the contract that needed to be amended. Darin doesn't really take a close look, just signing, and gets sent across. Not reading what he signed will lead to some interesting consequences for Darin.
Arvia is definitely a fantasy world. It has fantasy creatures and races, and even magic. What Darin didn't realize is the predators of the world, which the original contract said weren't any larger than 100 inches, were actually no more than 100 feet, and were shockingly unpicky about what kind of meat they eat. Meeting up with other travelers, Darin learns its not all dungeon raids and gold. He will have to work as a laborer and earn money to live and eat. This doesn't leave time to try and find old tombs to raid. The giant predators also give incentive not to be roaming around either!
A few months into his new life, Darin has a job working for a merchant. He makes a deal for some magic fabric and finds it has magic properties, making it usable for Darin to make a wing suit that allows him to glide long distances. On an excursion testing the suit, he gets caught by a group of harpies, who are about 30 feet tall, and they start throwing him around before they would devour him. Escaping the smallest one, he ends up turning the tables and lands on her back, which leads to something amazing. Darin starts talking to the harpy, named Rinloh, and they strike up a strange friendship, as Darin teaches Rinloh humans have more uses than as a tasty part of a balanced diet.
This leads to the heart of the story, as Darin and Rinloh teach each other about their cultures, and Rinloh starts to think of Darin as her friend, something unimaginable before their meeting. Its also during this time that Darin starts adventuring in the city he lives in, called Xin, looking into various mysterious disappearances in the city that are increasing in number as the yearly fair is about to happen, something the city doesn't need to be interrupted. What Darin and his partners discover will threaten Darin's life, and even Rinloh might not be able to keep Darin from meeting a horrible end.
CHARACTERS AND WORLD BUILDING
This is one of those books that has a lot of character building mixed with quite a bit of world building. Darin and Rinloh are both POV characters, and a lot of attention is paid to their character arcs, letting the reader get into their heads, with a close look at their thoughts and motivations. They both get excellent character building arcs, coming really far from where they started. There are several secondary characters, who get various levels of character building, but do rise above the level of two dimensional cutouts. The villains have actual realistic motivations based on how their society operates.
The world building is pretty expansive, since Arvia is such a different kind of fantasy world. It has magic, but where Darin lives, in Xin, its weak and diffuse. The wilderness is full of huge fantasy predators, from giant harpies, naga, even more giant mermaids, various giant cats, giant crabs, centaurs, and many others, most not friendly to humans, who are forced to live in walled cities for protection. Xin the city is fairly small by Arvia standards, and considered a backwater, but provides protection form the predators to its residents. The various predators have their territories which they guard jealously. This is the world Darin finds himself in, a fantasy realm with not a lot of fantasy aside from the monsters.
As I noted previously, I always appreciate a fantasy story that has a lighter side. Even though there are a few darker moments in this one, they are far outweighed by the comedic elements. With fun characters and an atypical fantasy setting, its a fun story that keeps the reader turning pages, and hoping their will be more stories to come.