I love Too Many Curses, my fifth novel. It is, however, probably my most obscure and least loved. There are a few reasons for this, but most practically, it was my last novel with Tor Publishing, which meant it didn’t get a lot of love from the publisher. They did eventually release it in mass market and on Audible.com, for which I am grateful. But it was my last book with the publisher, and I can’t blame them for not being terribly excited by it.
Beyond that, I think it’s just a tough book for a lot of people to get because it is so gosh-darned optimistic. Granted, I’m not renowned as a dark or negative writer, but Too Many Curses is deliberately a very positive book about a bunch of characters in way over their head and how through perseverance and pluck, they manage to save the day. It is a tale of genuine heroism through sheer determination and practicality, a theme that runs throughout the story. In a world that equates cynicism with sophistication, that’s always going to be a bit of a tricky sale.
At the heart of the novel is Nessy, as unassuming a protagonist as you can get. She’s small, inconsequential, with no great powers and a reserved stoicism. She has no greater dreams than to tend her castle. She takes pride in her job, and she believes in doing things right. She could easily be a doormat, and at first glance, one might even assume that she is. Many of the characters do, including Margle, her master.
We’re so trained to see heroes as awesome people or people who become awesome that Nessy is an intentional subversion of that. Nessy is awesome, and by the book, she’s become more awesome. But it is a reserved, quiet form of competence. She doesn’t have a magic sword. She doesn’t defeat the forces of evil with a smirk and a quip. By the end of the book, she has grown into a more capable, more confident person, but she hasn’t changed how she acts or views the world.
Nessy is defined by her own unshakable confidence in herself, and her belief that those around her are not her enemies. She lives in a castle full of curses, and she tries to do right by everyone and expects them to do right by her. This sort of optimism isn’t grounded in naivety, but in a belief that the world is a better place to believe in the good in people rather than assume the worst. With almost no exception, she greets every challenge with a dogged (pun intended) determination to rise to the situation as best she can, and by doing so, brings about the best in everyone around her.
The ultimate theme of Too Many Curses is that of family and the power of optimism. The world can be better if we strive to be better, and even a little kobold housekeeper can save the day (with some help of course) if she doesn’t give in to cynicism. It’s an idea that is difficult for people to accept, and reality isn’t always like that. But the job of fiction isn’t to tell us that the world sucks. It shouldn’t always be its job anyway. And in my worst moments, I sometimes think of Nessy and try to be more like her.
(And, yes, I know I created her, but it doesn’t mean she hasn’t grown into something bigger in my mind. She feels like a person, and one I would love to know.)
The entire point of Nessy is that we’re so often told that heroes are larger than life figures, who swoop in and save the day, often with their wits or martial prowess, that it’s easy to forget that most problems in real life don’t require us to be superheroes. I’m all for escapism, and I love a good action hero as much as the next fellow. But Nessy is something else, and I think she’s fairly unique in terms of fantasy literature, where often being able to summon dragons or slay sorcerers is the defining aspect of our heroes.
Nessy doesn’t slay. She doesn’t plot. She doesn’t scheme.
She works. She believes in others. She refuses to back down simply because something is difficult, and she places compassion and honesty as virtues. She’s never preachy about it. She doesn’t demand respect, but damn it, if you don’t respect her by the end of that book, I just don’t know how that’s possible.
I have a feeling that Too Many Curses will always be the obscure work in my catalog, and I’m fine with that. It’s a shame, but the book itself is one I’m immensely proud of. And I love Nessy more every year.
And you should too.