Spolier Free Summary: A Halo of Mushrooms is Andrew Hiller’s second published novel. (NOTE: Hiller did a story about me on his blog which I talked bout in my blog about My Journey So Far.) It’s about Derik a magical healer from another land who carries with him a very special mushroom. If I’m being honest, the cover leaves a lot to be desired. I implore you to ignore the cover and read the book as it’s a treat. It reminded me of Pratchett’s Discworld Series. I’ve mentioned a few times I’m a huge fan of Tiffany Aching’s saga, but not such a fan of The Color of Magic. This book has the traits of both books that I do like, and I feel fans of Pratchett would at least (if not enjoy) appreciate Mushrooms. In the book, Derik has to find the right location to plant his magic mushroom all while earning a dollar and avoiding cats and monsters who are hunting him down for stealing the magic spud.
Character: There are three main characters in this book, though it focuses on Derik. The other two characters are Imani, a baker, and Lara, a scientist. The characters are real enough, with decent identity and progress, but for my money, I think the most of Imani. Derik is the most well rounded of the characters, and we get a lot of insight into him, but Imani grows on the reader. Lara has some very interesting aspects, but I felt like her characters had some missed opportunities. What I feel makes this book stand out about these characters is that while they each individually may be lacking, this is a pretty strong ensemble cast. I realize as I write this that while I wish each character was more fleshed out, I moved through this book because of the way they interact with one another. For those who read my blog on plotting, this was a pretty effective relationship plot, and it’s honestly the strongest part of the book. These characters know Derik as a man trying to do something nice or right. They bond over their desire to help him.
Exposition: The exposition of this book is a little on the heavy side. There are a few segments where I feel Hiller is giving scope to the book, but I don’t think I personally needed it. Though there are patches of over exposition, they don’t slow the pace or enjoyment of the book.
Worldbuilding: I’d say this is the weakest area of the book. The magic system here doesn’t make a ton of sense. Now…I have to explain that I’m a fan of either (1) books that have a sense of wonder in which the magic is a complication or (2) books that have well understood (even if complex) magic systems that are part of the resolution. This book maintains a sense of wonder, but I felt that cost something at the end. However, it wasn’t something that brought the book too far down as the reader has enough understanding of how the worlds work to believe what’s happening. Once the reader understand the effects of the “Poms,” things flow pretty well. Now, I just said the exposition here was heavy, and how does one explain a magic system with out more of what was already a lot of exposition? So I see the sense in limiting the explanations to what the readers must have.
Dialogue: There’s a scene near the end of the book between Imani and one of her regular customers that I felt was a sign of a next level from Hiller. I wouldn’t begrudge an editor telling him to delete it, but it was strong writing that helped reveal the character. We see this again when Derik talks to a character referred to as Baba. Those two scenes are great examples of how dialogue can move a plot and define a character.
Description: I’m not as over the moon about description as some. It shows in my own writing, and it’s something I’m working on because I understand it’s something readers look for. With that said, I couldn’t tell you what any of the characters look like. The clearest memory I have is of a certain car that got great mileage without a lot of gas. There’s a lizard I can remember clearly as well. This didn’t bother me at all because of how much less invested I am in that sort of thing, but I evaluate the quality of description based on how much I can remember a day or so after reading the book. There are a few characteristics about Imani and Derik I can recall, but that’s about it. For my money, it didn’t bother me at all, but readers who want down to the thread count descriptions may find this element of the book lacking.
Overall: I want to go back to what I said earlier. A lot of the readers who enjoy the Discworld saga find a charm in the satire and melting pot of ideas. For me, this book has that sort of feel to me. The charm in my opinion is Derek’s sense of wonder in our world. I think that’s the main reason I enjoy it so much. Hiller shows our world from the point of view of someone from another world, and it made me feel more magic in our every day corner of the known universe. The ending was a cliffhanger, which I don’t generally like, but it did satisfy the plot of the book while pointedly indicating what I hope is a equally endearing sequel.
Thanks for reading