I highly overestimated my love for sports by thinking that enjoying Friday Night Lights was enough to read The House of Daniel. This latest novel by Harry Turtledove is 322 pages chock full of baseball talk with just the slightest tinge of magic and alternate history.
When I saw this book on Netgalley, the description fooled me into thinking that this wasn’t a sports novel as much as it was a magical alternate history. It mentioned baseball a little, but more than that it spoke of ‘The Big Bubble’, wizards, zombies and flying carpets. I thought it sounded interesting enough. I had just been sold on American Football through The Love That Splits the World, so why not take on baseball. Boy was I wrong.
The book starts telling the story of Jack Spivey. He’s a kind of low-life, but one with heart. He comes from a small town in Oklahoma and plays for their amateur baseball team. He’s also involved with Big Stu, the town’s heavy weight criminal who sends him on a mission to rough up someone’s kid brother. When he finds out that this brother is actually a sister, Jack flees from Enid to join the more professional baseball team called The House of Daniel. With this team he travels around the U.S. for a while and that’s kind of all there is to it.
When Jack gets on the road with his new baseball buddies, I felt like ‘the thing’ could happen at any moment. I had no idea what ‘the thing’ was, but surely in a world inhabited by magical creatures something should happen. When Jack started hinting at a thing called the Great Zombie Riot, I got more excited, these pages of baseball were going to pay off finally, but then the author spends hardly any time on this tiny riot and its consequences and we go right back into baseball!
Turtledove writes page after page about how the games went, who won, what kind of plays Spivey makes and what the ball pits looked like. I almost quit reading several times throughout the book, thinking there couldn’t be any more ways to describe how a ball game went. At no point does The House of Daniel pick up all the small bits that hint at something stranger going on in a world that’s filled with magic. This book simply follows the life of a common man on the road, while the world around him seemed much more fascinating.
I do have to say, no matter how boring I found the subject matter, Turtledove is definitely not a bad writer. Maybe I was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, but near the end I kind of got back into the book and was rooting for Jack to live happily ever after. This book is probably going to be amazing for someone who REALLY loves baseball, but if you’re not that person I can’t recommend it. However, I’d definitely be interested in reading another of Turtledove’s book, but I will be avoiding all that mention sports of any kind.
Review Copy attained through Netgalley with special thanks to the publisher Tor.