When I first read Heaven Cent, I couldn't put it down. I thought that Dolph's quest for the Good Magician, aided by designated Adult Companion Marrow Bones (a skeleton), was one of the best stories I had ever read. Over the course of his quest, the pre-teen Prince Dolph learned about ends and means, the importance of honor, and the torment of conflicting obligations.
But when I first read this book, I was 13 years old. A novel that fascinated an adolescent mildly amuses a twenty-something. The twenty-something finds Dolph's commitments less onerous than perceived, his romantic entanglements (dare I say) juvenile, and his assertion of adulthood belied by his disregard for another individual's life and happiness. Clearly, I'm not really in the target audience any more.
So when I comment on this book, I have to step a little outside of myself. I have to consider it from the point of view of a pre-teen ... but I still find it wanting on several levels.
First, characterization is two-dimensional at best and the plot is almost totally linear. While I understand that a book targeted at pre-teens will inevitably be less complicated than a novel targeted at the more adult set, I believe that Anthony seriously underestimates his readers' intellectual capacity here.
The characters, especially the "good guys" tend to share the same basic qualities of decency, honor, and goodness ... in roughly the same measures. Even many of the "bad guys" turn out to be good guys (except the goblins), leaving little in the way of a believable, meaty antagonist -- or a multifaceted protagonist, for that matter.
To his credit, Anthony does add a degree of depth to Dolph, successfully guiding his protagonist from pre-teen self-centeredness to teen self-centeredness, but the other characters seem ... hollow and unchallenged. Their fears often turn out to be unfounded and their challnges often turn out to be less than challenging.
The plotting leaves a little to be desired. Anthony has adopted a "means and ends" theme as his great ethical question for this novel. Unfortunately, he consistently answers this question with a resounding "no." Anthony also glosses over those situations that might answer this question with a "yes," hollowing out the characters' ethical dilemma.
Additionally, the plot has a rather contrived, linear feel to it. Dolph and Marrow walk, sail, or fly from challenge to challenge, meeting each challenge in turn, and dismissing it, except for the delicate matter of Dolph's romantic entanglements, which Anthony saves for another novel, even though the answer to Dolph's dilemma is as obvious as scales on Nada Naga's snaky skin.
Setting-wise, expect standard Xanth fare. Fortunately, Anthony penned this novel long before the puns totally took over Xanth; the puns here are confined to either helpful areas of the plot or are ancillary devices, used sparingly.
I cannot recommend this Xanth novel to anybody who is an adult reader. For any fantasy reader above 15, Carol Berg, Orson Scott Card, and Tad Williams are far more appropriate -- and far more talented -- writers.