It’s hard to be a hustler. Animals these days aren’t as gullible as they used to be, and any fools around are quickly snapped up by other con-artists, of which there are far too many, if you ask me. Of course, that doesn’t stop Thimblerig from trying to find the fool among the many. And he’s good at it. So when Thimblerig has a nightmare about the coming apocalypse, he doesn’t chalk it up to bad figs. He sets a plan into motion to swindle as many believers as possible. Is it his fault that they think the vision comes from the almighty Unicorn to save them from the coming worldwide flood? Nope. All Thimblerig cares about is getting these suckers out into the middle of nowhere and then ditching them so he can start enjoying the good life. But, as his lies (and followers) grow, Thimblerig begins to wonder if his nightmare wasn’t something more after all. Unfortunately, before he can decide, he is faced with a bigger problem: he has found himself in the middle of the Wild Dogs’ annual hunt, and believers are at the top of the menu.
Thimblerig’s Ark is a reinterpreting of the story of Noah from an animal’s perspective. Yet, it doesn’t play it safe or saintly like some Biblical adaptations. Instead, it is both snarky and genuine, and the characters have real depth to them. Thimblerig is a really enjoyable character, cynicism and all, and as he progresses on his journey I felt like I was walking with him. There were a few moments which I felt leaned a little toward the cheesy side, but I had built up such goodwill with his character that I bought in. On the opposite side is Thimblerig’s foil: Sheila, the believing Kangaroo. She buys into all the Unicorn stuff, and so, of course, Thimblerig writes her off as a complete lune. She has moments of madness, but ultimately comes off as a slightly eccentric but genuine believer. She dips into wise-spiritual-grandmother cliché a little, but overall she works really well as a counter to Thimblerig’s cynicism.
With the Unicorn religiosity, the book also manages to have a spiritual side without being preachy. The book itself claims CS Lewis as an inspiration and it shows: Fleming manages to talk about religion (and even has a conversion scene!) without forcing it down the reader’s throats.
The book’s biggest problems lie around the fact that Thimblerig and Sheila are such good characters. How can that be? Well, when they are on-page I can look past poor prose or wandering scenes (and the prose does get poor at times). However, when the story shifts over to the villains of the piece, all the flaws show. Kid Duffy, the leader of the Wild Dogs, is a makeshift villain who could not hold my interest. Even the final fight scene with him at the end felt boring, despite Thimblerig’s presence and it being the payoff of the dramatic tension. The book also could be a little tighter. Though the main conflict is set up well, it takes too long for the characters to find their way to the destination. I enjoyed a few of the meetings they had along the way, but toward the end I began wondering how long they would be wandering around in the woods without much happening.
Overall, I am really torn about this book. I really enjoyed most of the characters it handed to me and I want to spend more time with them (thankfully there’s a sequel coming out). The tone was also a breath of fresh-air in a stale market. However, the moments of poor prose and lack of focus left me a little disappointed with the unfulfilled potential. Of course, this is Fleming’s first novel, and because of that I am hopeful for the future. Thus, though Thimblerig’s Ark isn’t perfect, I think it is a worthy beginning to what will hopefully be a great authorial career.
Published on 21 April, 2016. Last updated on