Title: A Penguin Rolling Down a Hill
Author: Kevin Tranter
Genre: Young Adult/Crossover Fantasy Adventure
Reviewed by: Thomas Macolino
Pacific Book Review
Kevin Tranter’s debut novel, “A Penguin Rolling Down a Hill,” captures one’s imagination by contradicting common sense yet remains perfectly logical and analytical. Tranter offers us a view of a surreal landscape full of rich characters with creative minds which would make any middle school teacher weep for joy. Drawing upon a rich history of novels like “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Phantom Tollbooth,” Tranter takes the reader on a journey through the dimension of dreams, where dream actors perform for the people of Earth under the watchful supervision of Dream Ambassadors Mr. Good and Vile.
When Vile forcibly ejects Mr. Good from his Palace of Somnium and plans to fill the Earth with endless nightmares, Mr. Good concocts a plan to summon the rational and analytical Lorraine and Melvin to help him regain control of his home. But not everything is as it seems. Memory loss, unhelpful inner monologues, and personality changes plague Vile and his crew. While Keith, a suspicious Boy Scout, has been summoned from Earth, although no one seems to know why. In a plot with as many twists and turns as the Royal Blue Labyrinth, Tranter’s novel is sure to keep the reader guessing until the very last page. The novel’s mix of daft riddles, absurd characters’ and antics are sure to keep a small smile on any reader’s face throughout.
“A Penguin Rolling Down a Hill” does an excellent job diverging from its ancestors. While a wonderful novel in its own right, many other stories in this genre often reduce characters to nothing more than a single trait or gimmick. Although Tranter’s novel does not give us the back story of every single minor character, as no novel could, he brings a depth of character development to a pinnacle of imagination. For example, even the Muscular Guards have personalities and fears. The Dragon has a history, and a first name (it’s Derek). Every character is complex, despite being in a world full of dreams, utterly real.
The plot and characters are the novel’s greatest strength. “A Penguin Rolling Down a Hill” is filled with cunning, vivacious characters. Yet their choices ultimately don’t seem to matter. There is a theme of inexorable fate running throughout the story. Characters seem less likely making their own decisions and more like they are following a path which has already been laid out for them. There is no problem too small that it cannot be solved with a deus ex machina; no clever scheme the villain can make which wasn’t foreshadowed before he even thought of it. Small things in the novel do raise questions to the reader. For example, the affirmation of astrological signs being accurate predictors of character traits, to the horrific brainwashing of a minor character being casually glazed over in a single paragraph, never to be bothered with again, give open- ended pathways to the ultimate demise of certain characters.
Overall, “A Penguin Rolling Down a Hill” is very much like a fun dream. It is interesting, entertaining, and bizarre, even if all the important decisions seem to be made behind the scenes without any of the dream actors having a say. Like being on a fanciful roller- coaster, readers will have to fasten their seatbelts when opening this book – knowing this will begin a ride of a memorable book ahead.