The Dwarves, by Marcus Heitz
This novel follows three-ish groups who all end up fighting an epic battle.
Tungdil is a dwarf living with a mage. In all his hoping and errands, he has never come across another dwarf. Instead, he has learned to read, speak multiple languages, and be a smith. The mage writes to the dwarves, informing them of Tungdil’s existence. While waiting for an answer, the mage tasks Tngdil to deliver some items to the mage’s former apprentice in Black Saddle. So Tungdil sets off on a long journey.
In the dwarven kingdom, the high king has grown old. Preparing for his death, he has asked the king of the fourthlings, Gandogar, (fourthlings are one of five kingdom of dwarves) to present himself as a potential to be high king. At the presentation, Gandogar reveals his intention to lead the dwarves against the elves in war. The old high king, distraught by the prospect, seeks to delay making Gandogar high king until the council can be persuaded to avoid war. To delay the crowning, the high king states there is a second challenger to the throne, Tungdil.
In a third front, the mages meet. The Perished Land, a dead place full of orcs and revenants where the dead come back to life, presses against a barrier, which the mages maintain. The barrier has started to fail. The mages, including Tungdil’s master, meet to reinforce the barrier. During the spell, Nudin the Knowledge-Lusty betrays the mages stealing their power. He then kills the other mages. He then calls together the mage apprentices and steals their power as well. This leaves the Perished Lands to invade the realm and the orcs to plunder towns at will.
Tungdil meets up with the guards sent by the high king, learns of Nudin’s treachery, and agrees to challenge for the throne. In the challenge, each challenger picks tasks that both must complete. Tungdil challenges Gandogar to a journey that includes reuniting the dwarven kingdoms, killing a dragon, and forging a legendary weapon. On the way, his group is threatened by orc, evil elves, treacherous dwarves, and fate which sometimes guides and other times ignores them.
Having forged the mighty weapon, Tungdil, Gandrogar, the elves, the humans, and the last surviving magus meet on the battlefield to fight Nodin.
My Goodreads rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a good adventure. If you are looking for a coming of age adventure with an epic grand battle, this is a solid choice, but it has some pitfalls.
Names and titles. This book, especially at the beginning, is overrun by names and titles. A dwarf cannot introduce himself without giving his name, nickname, and clan. I give you: Boïndil Doubleblade and Boëndal Hookhand of the Swinging Axe clan and warriors of the secondlings; Gandogar Silverbeard of the Silverbeards, king of the fourthliings; Goingar Shimmerbeard of the clan of the Shimmerbeards, Lot-Ionin the Forebearing ruler of the Enchanted Realm of Ionanda; etc. All the names bogged me down and almost convinced me to stop, but I soon stopped paying attention to all the names.
There is a sense of things happening too easily. For instance, with all the names floating around, the evil elves, enslaved to Nou’donn the Doublefold, announce their master to the orcs, while Tungdil eaves drops from a tree. Thereby relieving poor Tungdil of any investigation to determine who his enemy is. At another point, Tungdil is faced with his first orc battle. He is untrained and knocked down, but he is saved by the appearance of the high king’s escorts. Plausible, but then when the group of three dwarves come across Nou’donn, one of the previously dead magus reappears and saves them. At another point, Tungdil’s group is searching for a dragon so they can steal its fire, only to get to the exact cave where it is at and find it already dead. Never fear, however, because the dragon lit the lake on fire, leaving what they needed within their reach without the dragon battle. But fire is tricky and in the final battle before reaching the forge, it is extinguished. Again, never fear because the Perished Lands does not let anyone die, and 11 century old dwarves who have battled their internal anger and evil regained their sanity and have been protecting the forge still lit with dragon fire since their downfall. 11 centuries ago. There are many other instances in the story.
This is a Tolkien realm adventure. Sure the names of the individual players are different, but there are no substantial differences that ever lead me away from thinking of Tolkien. Wizards are magi, but the other races have the same names. The races are described the same down to the bearded dwarven women and the leaf-shaped elf ears. Sure the wizards have to recharge their magic, which is not something Tolkien used, but that alone wasn’t enough to drag me away from the Tolkien realm.
Women have no individuality. Sure there are women in the story. Yes, the women do some cool things. The last remaining magus is a woman. She heals people, balances good and evil, throws lightening, and does some other cool stuff, but she is a woman. So she is hit on and seen as a love interest by one of the males. Her male travelling companion is for a brief mentioned suggested to possibly be something more than just her body guard. The female dwarf the joins Tungdil becomes his love interest. The woman Tungdil is friends with at the start of the novel is fairly consistently referred to in connection with her children. The human actress who joins the party is the lover of one of the other actors, and in the indexes at the end is not noted for her battle bravery or her own actions but rather as the actor’s lover. The female queen of the firstling dwarves has her own independence, but of course it takes Tungdil showing up and suggesting she go north before she breaks the long silence between her clan and the others. (This part was probably more annoying because Tungdil literally only had to tell her to go north, she mentioned she had already considered breaking the silence, and the assumption was that she needed to go to the male kings versus them coming to her.)
All that being said, I still gave the book 4 stars. When I want to read an adventure book, I’m not worried about the role of women and weak plot choices. I’m reading for battles and intrigues and action. This book had a lot of those moments. Once the naming settled down, the story smoothed out, and it was a fairly quick read. I still recommend reading, but go into the book knowing its a Tolkien-esque fantasy adventure. Enjoy it for what it does well.