Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Review of The Portable Door by Tom Holt (2003, Orbit)

Paul Carpenter has been abandoned by his parents, who upped sticks and moved to Florida the moment he finished school. Living in a crappy bedsit he interviews for a job at J.W. Wells & Co as a clerk. Much to his surprise he’s offered the post, turning up to the company to find the skinny, angular, distant girl he took an instant liking to at the interview has also been employed. They are paired for their training, which seems to consist of nothing but sorting, filing, long awkward silences and furtive glances, without any clue as to what they are doing professionally or personally. Things are weird enough, but they gradually become odder and when they try to quit they’re informed that the terms of their contract forbid such a move and the consequences. At least Paul has discovered a portable door that enables him to escape for a while, though it too has its downsides.

The Portable Door is the first instalment of the J.W. Wells & Co. urban fantasy series. In this outing, the young, naïve and painfully shy Paul Carpenter joins the company, along with the equally socially awkward, Sophie. Neither seems able to tell the other how they feel and seem determined to sabotage any chance of a relationship for fear of rejection and making a fool of themselves. Instead, they carry out boring, mundane administrative tasks, the purpose of which they don’t understand, for a very odd company. Then Sophie gets a boyfriend and Paul finds a portable door and things start to get stranger. Essentially, the story is an extended rom-com with a bit of fantasy thrown in. And unfortunately it is a bit of fantasy, with the balance weighted heavily towards the strung out failure-to-connect romance. The other part of the story – the mystery and adventurous task they find themselves central to is underplayed and lacks depth and tension. The result was one part of the tale being drawn out and the other underdeveloped. Nonetheless, the characters are engaging in an annoying kind of way, the setup around the company is intriguing, there’s a gentle humour running throughout, and there’s a sense that the series will be worth persisting with.

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