If there’s one thing I have learned as a voracious consumer of speculative fiction, it’s that not every strange, narrative happening requires a thorough explanation. In fact, it’s rather nice to not overthink the whys of a fun fantasy, to just go with the flow and accept a novel’s events as they come along. In that respect — and indeed in most respects — Forrest Leo‘s The Gentleman makes for one of the most enjoyable reads I have laid eyes on since starting this website.
The premise of The Gentleman is simple: poor poet Lionel Savage has married Vivien Lancaster for her money, only to realize that he and his wife share nothing in common, and that he cannot write a word as a married man. During a society party, Savage receives a visit from the Devil — a word that he, in his poetic-to-a-fault way, decides to render in a single, unintelligible syllable as “Dev’l” — who thanks him for playing Devil’s advocate in a previous conversation and asks him to be his friend. Savage agrees, and vents about his marital woes, to which his new chum responds with an observation that such matters have a way of working out. Immediately after the other man departs, Savage is informed that Vivien has gone missing, and comes to the horrifying conclusion that he has just sold his wife to the Dev’l. Shenanigans ensue.
Leo populates The Gentleman with a small cast of memorable characters, each of which feels fully fleshed out. Savage is locked into a petty rivalry with another poet, Whitley Pendergast, who appears, in name or in body, to vex Savage at key points throughout the novel. In his journey to save Vivien from Hell, the poet-narrator is joined by a lively cast of allies: Lizzie, his headstrong teenage sister; Ashley, Vivien’s globetrotting daredevil of a brother; and Simmons, the loyal family butler. With The Gentleman framed as Lionel Savage’s manuscript, the novel also features commentary from its editor, Hubert Lancaster, who happens to be the poet’s cousin-in-law and who refuses to let slide any one of Savage’s poetic flights of fancy.
Both the zany circumstances and the comedic interplay between Leo’s cast have garnered comparisons of The Gentleman to the works of P. G. Wodehouse and Monty Python. Those comparisons are well earned. Savage’s cringe-inducing assessments of his own poetic prowess are tempered with more realistic observations from Lizzie, Simmons, and Hubert, in a way that calls to mind the constant knocking down of pegs that Frasier visited upon its snooty title character.
Some readers may find that The Gentleman wraps up its plot a bit too neatly in the end. However, Leo plots well, and readers’ lingering questions, if not answered, will at least be satisfied by the fun of the journey.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this honest review.
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Image credit: Joanna Kosinska