A Lee Martinez specialises in a kind of fantasy comedy that riffs on a range of fantasy, science fiction literary and movie tropes. His 2013 novel Emperor Mollusk Versus The Sinister Brain centred around a super villain, and the book before that 2012’s Chasing the Moon was a comic hero’s journey fighting a range of monsters. But it is his 2016 first of a trilogy The Last Adventure of Constance Verity, a book on similar themes, that is now likely to be his breakout as it is being made into a movie with Awkwafina in the lead role.
Constance Verity has been an adventurer since a fairy godmother put an enchantment on her when she was seven. Since then Connie has constantly been on the go saving the world and then the universe from a range of monsters, robots, cults and conspiracies. But now Connie has had enough, she wants the enchantment lifted so she can live a normal life. And the only way she thinks she can do this, against the advice of best friend Tia, is to kill the Fairy Godmother who enchanted her in the first place. This puts her on a path of what may well be her last adventure, if she can indeed give adventuring up. But also a nested, complex weave of conspiracies within conspiracies which will make her reassess her whole life and the choices that she has made.
The balance between comedy and action is a difficult one to walk. But Martinez has plenty of material to work from ranging from Doctor Who to James Bond to Indiana Jones to Robert Langdon to any one of a myriad of Marvel or DC heroes and well beyond. Much of the fun here is how Martinez riffs on the huge canon of adventure stories, allowing readers to fill in the gaps and manages to build it into a fairly coherent (although often confusing given the number of reverses and double reverses) narrative. There is so much of this material around that it was clearly hard for Martinez to know when to stop.
While ostensibly constantly deconstructing the hero narrative, Martinez has to deliver one in order for the enterprise to work. But he builds that journey around Connie’s existential crisis so that it all works as a piece.
Constance herself is a great character. Frighteningly competent in the adventuring world but craving a normal, humdrum life in which she can have a job, go on dates and kick back in front of the television after a long day. In relief to this is her best friend and sometime sidekick Tia who already has such a life and can not understand what Connie sees about it that is appealing. The two are surrounded by a few other amusing side characters, a host of villains drawn deliberately from central casting (complete with well-designed lairs).
While some of the adventure stories that Martinez references have a comic element, there is not a lot of good comic adventure fantasy/scifi. And while this narrative falters from time to time, it is anchored around an engaging heroine and delivers a rattling tale with its tongue firmly embedded in its cheek.
The Last Adventure of Constance Verity is the first book of a trilogy. The second, Constance Verity Saves the World came out in 2018 and is also getting a rerelease in anticipation of both the film and the third book in the series Constance Verity Destroys the Universe due out later this year. Which is all to say that fans of this book will have plenty more to look forward to and if the movie works, more of those too.