The Garden Wall is Lichfield Dean’s first full-length novel. Reminiscent of works by Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams, the humorous science fiction tale is entertaining enough to be a decent read. A young female university student named simply Eradani is probably the main character. I say “probably” because the book opens with scenes featuring a number of characters and it takes a fair bit of reading before the young woman emerges as the most likely prospect for the job. This approach seems popular with indie writers. One wonders whether this is a deliberate ploy or today’s young authors suffer from a chronic inability to focus. Perhaps the idea is to demonstrate a new kind of “inclusive” storytelling. The influence of film, with its numerous short sequences and shifting viewpoints, may also be a factor here. In any case, the lack of a consistent viewpoint character gives the book a rambling incoherent feel that detracts from what could have been a much stronger tale.
The story has two main threads. One starts on Earth and involves the building of a green (sorry, nothing to do with the environment) spaceship designed to carry out an expedition to Bernard’s Star. This is Eradani’s territory. Her companions seem a fun assortment of escapees from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Masterminding the colossally expensive project is the mysterious Mr. Tomkins who has pockets like Dr. Who’s TARDIS. The other thread is a quest story and takes place on a planet in the Barnard’s Star system. Things are still medieval on the distant world so we swap back and forth between the two levels of technology as well as the two sets of clownish characters. An alchemist named Sepwise leads the Barnard’s Star set. These include a geographer, a psychiatrist, and a poet. If you think the geographer and the shrink seem out of place in a medieval society, Dean has this covered: these characters have just recently “invented” their jobs. Dean is a university student so it comes as no surprise that he draws virtually all of his characters from that increasingly surreal world. As you may have guessed by now, the two story lines eventually converge and the novel’s main ideas play out ponderously while the flimsy plot is resolved in a contrived shootout with robot security guards who are not actually there.
I enjoyed the book reading it for relaxation during an especially busy time. The seemingly irrelevant title does make sense once you get into the story, but I still think it a mistake. With a better title, some proper cover art, and opening scenes that make Eradani’s role in the story more clear, this could be a winner. As it stands, it is still an entertaining read.