Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Midsummer's Bottom by Darren Dash - Book Review

4/5 Stars

'Consider, mortal, the game to be had

By tricking these clowns and turning them mad...'

Edition: E-Book
Pages: 437 (roughly)
Chapters: Structured like a play; split into 5 Acts (plus an epilogue)
Publisher: Home of the Damned

Book Links:


* I was gifted this book, by the author, in exchange for an honest review.

It's always an honour when an author reaches out to me and asks for my opinion on their work, and although I'm not always able to reply, I appreciate it. That feeling pales in comparison to waking up to an email from your favourite writer; the writer that stoked the flames of passion for reading and magical worlds.

Darren Dash, more commonly known as Darren Shan, had me on the verge of fanboying quite embarrassingly when he sent along his new novel Midsummer's Bottom. I half danced, half read the email like an adult, and without any doubts I promised to read and honestly review his new work.

Midsummer's Bottom is a fantasy dramedy set in Limerick, Ireland (Republic, not Northern), that is structured like a play and inspired by Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's ambitious, wholly different from the author's other books, and utterly addictive.

I feel guilty at just how much I lived for the delicious drama that Dash devised.


The Midsummer Players stage an outdoor version of A Midsummer Night's Dream every year on Midsummer's Eve, in a glade in a forest. The actors have a wonderful time, even though they're dreadful. Audience members appreciate the effort they put in and applaud politely, but almost never attend more than once. Except for...

...the fey folk!

All of the fairies named in the play are obliged to attend every performance, due to a deal that they struck back in the day with a mischievous Master Shakespeare. In an attempt to disband the irksome Midsummer Players on the eve of their twentieth anniversary, Oberon and Puck hire a human agent of chaos to infiltrate the actors' ranks and set them against one another by focusing on secret attractions and grudges that have been lying dormant up to now. Sparks will fly, and everyone will come to blows, but it's all executed with a wink and a grin, and there will be more smiles than tears by the end.

At least, that's the plan...

Plot - 4/5 Stars

Midsummer's Bottom is true to its synopsis, with readers in store for a tale of complex relationships and realistic drama. Sprinkles of fantasy keep the novel light, but the author does a phenomenal job of exploring grounded issues. I'm in awe of just how well Dash dives into the human psyche, bringing to light the good, the bad, and the completely unexpected.

This may not be his usual blood, guts, and gore story where twists and turns are the specials on the menu, but it's no less compelling in its portrayal of love, life, and laughter. The novel's chaos-infused events can sometimes be heavy, but there is plenty of wit and laughter to even everything out.

I would've liked a little more of the fantasy, with more time spent examining the fey and their culture, but it's hard to grumble when there's so much organised chaos threatening to explode (even with some events being convenient rather than plausible).

In the end, the story is brought from a simmer to a boil, and despite some clashing tones, Dash pulls off a positive spin, showcasing that chaos is sometimes the only thing that can offer the clarity of sanity.

Pace - 4/5 Stars

The flow of the novel can be a little sticky to begin with as the plot's foundations are built and the characters are introduced, but once comfortable the pace is smooth, consistent, and the tension that ripples on every page is undeniably captivating.

There is a jarring time jump in Act 2 that caught me by surprise, but the book as a whole is tight.

Characters - 5/5 Stars

The cast, unsurprisingly, is the best part and driving force of the novel. Dash introduces a varied and sexually diverse bunch of characters that create perhaps the most honest experience of humanity I've read in a while. Their lives and histories unfold in a way that shows the reader their hopes and resentments. They're tangible and telling, gay, straight, and the kaleidoscope in between.

My feelings for them transcend simple labels such as like and dislike, and their portrayal reminds me of another of the author's works, The Evil and the Pure (something you should absolutely check out if you love dark complexity). Midsummer's Bottom's cast conflicts. They're not an instantly likable bunch, and, sometimes, they can downright disgust you, but that speaks volumes to their intricate creation. They're neurotic and negligible; they're also relatable and compassionate.

I'll reiterate what I said about honesty, because despite the lighthearted and comedic nature of the novel, choice and consequence are nasty elements of life that Dash treats without judgement.

Writing - 4/5 Stars

I have to admit that I've never read Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (I need to read more classics), and the play-like structure of Dash's novel, while paying homage, was initially hard for me to slip comfortably into. In saying that, the author needn't worry about diverging from his usual nightmare-inducing tales. The writing remains a common thread between genres, and the talent behind building so many house of cards crosses over.

Midsummer's Bottom is funny, fantastical, and tremendously thoughtful. It balances its plot with Shakespeare's tale, and updates its themes and messages for a new generation.

The Bard would be proud.

Overall - 4/5 Stars

It's unsurprising that after my extended hiatus from reading and reviewing that, upon coming back, Dash/Shan would be the first author I picked up and the first to reignite my passion. I might be off my game, but let me be clear: Midsummer's Bottom is a dramedy with fire in its belly. It's thrilling, suspenseful, and surprisingly risque.

Interested? You should be. Despite being lucky enough to have received an early copy, it's not long now until the book's released on Thursday the 21st of June over on Amazon.

For more Darren Dash reviews: Index

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