I’m really struggling to get my thoughts in order. I am not sure what to make of Penultimate Quest. Overall it was a satisfying reading experience. It is a strange, meandering tale about repeating patterns of behaviour that at one point served a useful purpose but now do more harm than good. The characters were well written, and I personally became very invested in their fates. Frustratingly this is one of those books that I think requires repeated readings to get the most out of it. It certainly makes literary allusions that I didn’t understand, and the plot is somewhat convoluted. It is overlong, but I think that is part of the point.
The dialogue is witty, and the banter between party members is engaging. The page layout and panel composition are masterfully done. The art style took me a while to get used to, but for the type of story this, it works well. Our protagonists are believable, damaged, and, sympathetic even when they are doing things that are hurtful to each other and the world around them.
My criticism is that this is a novel that requires a lot of effort, which given how the book starts caught me off guard. There are middle sections where plot and character progression almost crawls to a stop. If I didn’t have to review it, I might have stopped. I was lost at which direction the story was trying to take me, and there were points where I was frustrated and confused by what the comic was trying to do. I am glad I kept with and finished it but fair warning if you are expecting a light read think again. There are heavy ideas explored here, and Brown often takes the most arduous path to get his points across. The story takes characters off in unexpected tangents that are often delightful but on occasion are tedious.
I have mixed feelings about it. It is undoubtedly a novel that deserves to be read. I enjoyed vast chunks of it. Yet, when it didn’t work for me, it really didn’t work me. It is a thought-provoking and challenging book that stayed in my head for days after I had finished reading. It is the sort of book you want to discuss with other people to find out what they made of it. Lars is a fantastic cartoonist, and Penultimate Quest is a lavish showcase of his storytelling prowess.