Create a situation, throw characters at it, give them some minor obstacles that they easily overcome, introduce as many reader suggestions as possible, and end on a happy note after a little bit of conflict. How often have we seen this formula in recent Xanth novels? In some cases, the stories are still entertaining. They may lack a compelling plot or character depth and development, and they may include far too many puns, but something about them still appeals. For me, this volume lacks that appealing 'something.'
The book reminded me of Umlaut himself--an emulation. The story and characters were `there,' but lacked substance. The writing was amusing in spots and Umlaut was endearing in his klutzy, dim way, but that's about it. The idea of the protagonist traveling far and wide to make deliveries to characters new and familiar has been done before in Roc and a Hard Place, and the two books even share similar types of ending, where a character faces an unpleasant outcome. The numerous characters we meet serve no real purpose, but seem to be excuses to include as many reader suggestions as possible. Metria's situation lacks conviction. We are told that Ted is threatened, but see him safely at home. It's not as though he is being held hostage. Metria supposedly will do anything to save her son, but her methods to prevent delivery of the letters do not show increasing desperation as the story continues. She tries the same ploy multiple times even though it always fails, and never enlists the help of Mentia and Woe Betide. The Demon wager that sets up this story is baffling. I thought Demon Xanth had come to care for the inhabitants of his realm, so why would he risk them? Why allow an emulation of Jupiter's to figure in this wager when he has nothing to lose--it's Xanth's province that's at stake? At the end, Xanth appears reluctant to let Umlaut exist for real. Every condition for his survival is a choice between himself and others. It just makes no sense.
While I enjoy this series overall, I would rather the author produce a quality story every so often than a mediocre one churned out every year.