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Book Review, ‘The Dwarves,’ by Markus Heitz
Published by Orbit Books
Good read but don’t expect anything earth shattering.
‘Dwarves’ is the story of Tungdil, a dwarf brought up by human magi, unaware of his background and family. He studies books, learning about dwarves and their culture and longs to meet them himself.
After a falling out, he is sent to deliver a message, and loves the idea of seeing the wider world. As his journey continues, he discovers a magus, Nudin, has betrayed the others. When he meets with the other dwarves, he finds that they must reforge a weapon, the only way to destroy the evil that resides within Nudin.
On his quest, he is helped by a range of unusual characters, from the fabulous Rodario, an actor, to the maga, Andôkai and her companion, the enigmatic armoured giant, Djerůn. The unlikely friends travel all over Girdlegard to stop the encroachment of the Perished Land and destroy Nudin, but Tungdil must also unify groups who have their own grudges against each other as well as his own party.
So what to say? The book is long at 730 pages, which can be daunting to some people. There are other books is the same world, but this is a complete story. It puts me off when I pick up a fantasy book and see that it is book X of Y. The length takes time to explore the characters and also to explain other points of action. Despite the length, there was never any feel that the book was slowing or intentionally long. It was as long as the story needed to be.
The book ambled at a gentle pace, although I found it harder and harder to put the book down the more I read. Most of the characters I liked and felt for, even one who was whiney. As with most stories that have several characters, there were a couple I did not enjoy, and I felt that the character of Djerůn could have been developed more. It probably did no help that he was not able to talk.
So far, so good. But why only three stars? This was Markus Heitz’s first novel, and since then, he has set several more books in the same fantasy world. I do not know if he has improved, I hope so as I find his work very good. There were some down points, which hindered the story and were silly. The use of ‘orbit’ and ‘cycles’ to replace ‘day’ and ‘year’ respectively made reading at times clunky, and it did not contribute to the story in any way.
The maps at the start of the book looked as if they had been thrown together in five minutes. We are all used to the beautifully crafted maps of Tolkiens Middle Earth, the world of Game of Thrones, Games Workshops’ ‘Warhammer World’, or even the Elderscrolls maps. The map of Girdlegard is very rectangular (it was drawn of A4, I am guessing.) They show a darkened area where mountains are and name the important places that are in the novel. There are no trees to show where the forests are, no rivers, no other important places. It is easy enough to make a map with more detail, even websites for it. So a map is not the most important part of a novel, but it would have contributed more to the atmosphere of the Girdlegard world, rather than making it look cheap.
Another, albeit, minor and personal annoyance, is that the book was translated from German into American English. I know this is because the American audience is larger, but seeing ‘axe’ as ‘ax’ and ‘amour’ as ‘armor’ just gets on my wick.
Now, I come to my biggest grievance, and the reason the book does not get a better score from me. The book is a fantasy book. Let me explain; there is nothing original. Had the book been written in the 1970’s then it would have been ok, but everything in this book we have seen before. The dwarves live in great fortresses underground, they smith, love gems and gold, drink too much and hate elves. The elves live in trees, dislike dwarves and are haughty to non-elves. Every stereotype of fantasy is in the book, so it gives nothing new to fantasy. Even the plot is very contrived. A dwarf does not know his past, magical weapons to kill the bad guy, but first they have to travel far and wide to get it. A mismatched group of travellers who become friends and discover things about themselves. The orcs who don’t seem to be able to kill anything, and throw themselves at the dwarves to get slaughtered.
Would I recommend this book? Yes, but only for a reader who wants easy reading, a reader who wants basic run-of-the-mill fantasy. Would I read more of his works? Yes. As I said earlier, it is well written with good characters, and hopefully his experience would remove the negative points I have pointed out.