The Quest for the Holy Ale
Author: Gene Rowe and Andrew Schofield
Publisher: Melrose Books
Rating: 3 stars
By David Taylor
14 Sep 2009
I make no apology at the outset for stating that for me, beer, sunshine and cricket are pretty much the perfect combination. You can have two without the other, or indeed one without the other two, but in unison they can make for the ideal way to spend a day. So I was looking forward to a book that examined the relationship between our national drink and our national summer sport - looking at which grounds serve the best beer, where to find the best pubs near crciket grounds, and so on. A sort of beer lover's guide to cricket, or vice versa.
Well, that's what I was looking forward to.
This is very much a work of fiction. There is a cricket match, but it's done and dusted within the first hundred pages. The story comes, I suppose, into the Terry Pratchett-style genre of 'fantasy comedy' or what I tend to think of as the comedy of the highly improbable. It's set in the village of Cross-my-Way in an indeterminate time in the past (nobody has any mechanised transport, for instance, although there are plenty of 21st century references). The aforementioned match is between two pub teams, those belonging to The Merry Bear (landlord: Hops) and The Compromised Pilgrim (Manis). One team wins, the landlord of the other exacts terrible revenge and as a result the beleaguered landlord sends two of his staff, accompanied by a mysterious monk, to find and bring back the fabled Greatest Ale in the World, the monk having persuaded him that he has a map to its location. Along the way they are pursued by a party from the rival inn, and have various scrapes in the lands and territories that they have to pass through.
And that's pretty much it. There is a huge cast of characters (with a helpful guide at the back, although most only appear for a short time) some of which have some fairly preposterous names, and from time to time the proceedings are viewed by a troupe of pigeons. As for the cricket match, we have the usual cast of blockers and sloggers, an ancient, cantankerous wicket-keeper and a pair of cake-scoffing commentators. None of it is particularly believeable although there is some nice dialogue ("drop that catch, my lad, and you'll be sweeping the stables for a week - without a broom").
I don't want to be unkind about this book. Clearly it was something of a labour of love, and the writers do have a feel for the game, even if it's barely mentioned after the end of the match. I found it rather hard going at times, but then I like my fiction a little more succinct, and, dare I say it, true to life. The humour was also a little too scatalogical for my tastes. What I would say is that if you like the works of Pratchett and, say, Douglas Adams, you'd probably like this too. Be prepared to take offence if you're a lager drinker though.