This book did my head in. To deliberately mangle punctuation, grammar, spelling, and syntax nearly beyond recognition is a lot harder than it sounds, and even harder still to come out with a cohesive, fascinating story at the end of it. Russel Hoban did it brilliantly.
The world building is fantastic and is helped along immensely by Riddley's less than perfect English. The folk tales, the allegorical puppet shows, and the glimpses of mankind's bygone glory days bring a strange sort of familiarity to an otherwise almost alien landscape and way of life. This book would not have had the same impact if it had been written in plain English, but what lifts it up is also what brings it down for me.
Reading this was hard work. Being pulled out of the story time and again by the sometimes incomprehensible Riddleyspeak was more than a little frustrating. There were times I had no freaking clue what was going on. There were times when my brain sort of disengaged and I found myself caught up in the rhythm of Riddley's speech patterns, sounding out syllables without assimilating the meaning of the words or stringing the words together into sentences (such as they were). There were times when I literally got a headache trying to parse it out.
So, to recap: Plus five stars for a compelling story, awesome world building, and the scope of Hoban's ambition in reworking the language. Minus two stars for "Ow, my brain!" and "sharna pax". (Seriously. How was I supposed to get that?)