The Warlock in Spite of Himself tells the story of space explorer Rod whose job it is to find undiscovered planets and to bring them under the jurisdiction of galactic democracy. At the start of the novel, Rod lands on a planet which seems to be stuck in the trope of a medieval fantasy land, but there is more at play here than there seems at first glance.
I was certainly pleasantly surprised by this book. Because of some slight issues of repetition which should have been picked up in editing (Rod seemed to be confused by or just working out things he had already discussed or thought about) as well as occasional pacing issues and a definite political agenda (democratic), I developed fairly low expectations. However, throughout the book I warmed to it more and more and in the end it charmed me with its witty writing style, likeable characters, fascinating world-building and actually pretty exciting and satisfying conclusion, both in climax and in explanation. The blend of sci-if and fantasy was particularly enjoyable, as witches and elves and other such things are expertly explained by an increasingly frustrated Rod in a scientific way.
Fess, Rod’s trusty ship computer/robot horse, could have been a terrible deus ex machina device, but because of the ingenious inclusion of his epilepsy, this is avoided and so tension is still very much present when needed.
I really enjoyed the world that Stasheff created, both in the large and small scale. The prediction of increased communications ability (almost a prediction of the internet) was especially gratifying and one could completely believe that this was the way the human race would go. The planet Gramarye itself, with the oft-used fantasy setting of the faux medieval era (more than it seems at face value), was well-developed and an enjoyable place to spend time in.
Rod himself at times seemed a little too perfect (in a male Mary-Sue sort of way); kind and caring, as well as clever, witty and almost unbeatable in combat. He could have been quite an infuriating character, especially with his political worthiness, but somehow he seemed to have just enough flaws to make him likeable, such as his obsession with the Dream, his wistfulness and his short fuse.
All in all, a very enjoyable read. I’m not sure if I’ll bother with any of the other books in the series, this being such a nicely tied-up story (especially since the novels in the series appear to be quite numerous), but I’ll certainly look out for Christopher Stasheff in future tours around bookshops.