High Times in Low Parliament


Kelly Robson


Fantasy / Science Fiction


Date Reviewed:

February 5, 2023

he blurb on the front cover of High Times in Low Parliament promises a story that is "funny, literally outlandish, and deeply relevant." On the back cover, the blurbs tell us to expect a tale that is "A great read" and "Hilarious and at times hallucinogenic". To paraphrase the immortal Inigo Montoya in the Princess Bride (which actually is a funny, hilarious, great read), "I don't think those words mean what you think they mean." If there is any shard of humor inside the pages of High Times in Low Parliament, this reader missed them entirely. I don't think Robson even attempted to tell a joke.

The best fantasy novels have impressive world building. The author describes a landscape full of magic, monsters and kingdoms, often ruled by monarchies. Once the world is described, the reader can imagine how such a world might function, with its heroes and customs and whatever plot the author has dreamed up. High Times in Low Parliament is just the opposite, I was left perplexed by how this fantasy world could possibly function - did Robson even bother to imagine a plausible world? The reader will soon notice that every character in the book is female. Where are all the males? Did they die? Did some magical event wipe them all out? How can humanity persist without males? The only clue to this baffling state of affairs is this exchange:

"How many babies did the natal fairy give your mother, legger?"

"Four, gracious beauty."

"And one of those a waster like you. She'll never make you a mother."

"Good thing too, because I will never ask for a baby. I have other sisters who are better suited for motherhood."

Rather than providing answers, that exchange raises still more questions. Do natal fairies impregnate the human mothers? (All the fairies appear to be female too). Are Lana and her sisters all clones? How and why did this bizarre state of affairs come about? Are there male horses, cats, fish, birds or bees in this world? Or is it only humans that have no males?

Lana Baker is the heroine of this mercifully short book (just 155 pages). She is a scribe who ends up at Parliament, copying down the words of the deputies who debate and vote on the floor. A rule states that if Parliament has a hung vote, then the fairies will cause a flood that will drown everyone. Again, the reader is left bewildered as to how such a strange state of affairs has come about. Why do the fairies care if humans have a hung vote? Why would anyone become a deputy to Parliament? Are deputies elected? Appointed? Do they serve a life sentence? Is Parliament always in session? Can the deputies never return to their homelands and meet with the citizens that they presumably represent? If Parliament is drowned, we are told that war will break out - because that has happened before? None of the functions of Parliament are made clear nor does this form of governance seem plausible.

Despite the risk of everyone at Parliament being drowned by the fairies, Lana Baker barely pays attention to the debates even as she transcribes them. There is no issue with major ramifications. Even such innocuous topics such as a bridge over the Danube or fishing in the Black Sea dissolves into conflict in a Parliament that cannot agree on anything. (Robson seems to think that a No vote is the same as a hung vote, whereas I consider a hung vote one where the ruling body cannot make a decision of either yes or no.) In the book, it seems Parliament votes no on everything, yet the fairies never drown everyone. Not that Lana Baker worries, she is too busy imbibing hallucinogenic mushrooms, and enjoying the mind-altering effects of yeast grains she stole from her mother's bakery. (Can yeast make you high? I had no idea.)

The deputy from Berkingmiddleshire apparently has a death wish, she sows confusion and discord on every issue brought before parliament. Maybe the deputy from Berkingmiddleshire wants to drown - but why do so many other deputies vote along with her? There apparently aren't any parties or political factions. Why not ignore the malcontents and vote for that bridge over the Danube? Berkingmiddleshire is always ranting about fairy tyranny - but in a novel where nothing is explained, the reader is left to wonder what "fairy tyranny" means. Does Berkingmiddleshire wish to see Parliament dissolved and warfare resume? Who knows?

Lana Baker confronts a group of cooks who are furtively hauling a mysteriously heavy crate through the night. One of the cooks slugs Lana in the jaw knocking her out. The cooks nor the crate are never mentioned again - so what was that all about?

Several of the malcontents come to a session of Parliament apparently wearing floatation devices under their robes. Do they imagine that they can trigger a hung vote that will cause the fairies to drown Parliament, and then they can float free? Of course no explanation is given.

The entire story is poorly thought out and poorly written. The characters are not likeable, sympathetic or believable. The fantasy world is an unfathomable hodge-podge of ill formed ideas. I will not be reading any other works by Kelly Robson.