Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review: The Dwarves

Title: The Dwarves
Author: Markus Heitz
Translated by: Sally-Ann Spencer
Pages: 733
ISBN: 9781841495729
Series: The Dwarves #1
Publisher: Orbit
Published: 2009
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Buy it from:
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For countless millennia, the dwarves of the Fifthling Kingdom have defended the stone gateway into Girdlegard. Many and varied foes have hurled themselves against the portal and died attempting to breach it. No man or beast has ever succeeded. Until now. . .

Abandoned as a child, Tungdil the blacksmith labors contentedly in the land of Ionandar, the only dwarf in a kingdom of men. Although he does not want for friends, Tungdil is very much aware that he is alone - indeed, he has not so much as set eyes on another dwarf. But all that is about to change.

Sent out into the world to deliver a message and reacquaint himself with his people, the young foundling finds himself thrust into a battle for which he has not been trained. Not only his own safety, but the life of every man, woman and child in Girdlegard depends upon his ability to embrace his heritage. Although he has many unanswered questions, Tungdil is certain of one thing: no matter where he was raised, he is a true dwarf. And no one has ever questioned the courage of the Dwarves.
Quick, think of a dwarf! Any dwarf will do. Get a clear picture in your mind. Got it? Good. So which dwarf immediately sprung to mind? For me it was Gimli from the movie version of The Lord of the Rings. He embodies all the qualities I would associate with the quintessential dwarf – limited height, long beard, brave and fierce in battle and of course that ingrained enmity towards elves.

In The Dwarves, the first book in the Dwarves saga, German author Markus Heitz elevates the dwarven race from their humble role as one-dimensional supporting characters and turns them into the vibrant, compelling heroes they deserve to be.

The main protagonist is Tungdil, a foundling dwarf who was raised by a human magus called Lot-Ionan. Tungdil hasn’t seen another dwarf in his life and he is completely disconnected from his dwarven heritage. His only knowledge about his race comes from books, which leads to some awkward and funny situations when he finally gets reunited with his kin.

After being sent on a seemingly easy errand by Lot-Ionan, Tungdil finds himself thrust into the middle of dwarven politics when he is unwittingly put forward as candidate for High King. As Tungdil struggles to reconnect with his roots, evil suddenly overwhelms Girdlegard after one of the mages betrays the rest and brings down the magical barrier that has kept the Perished land at bay. Together with a band of companions Tungdil must set out to forge a magical weapon that can kill Nod’onn, the embodiment of the evil that plagues the land.

The plot of The Dwarves is a pretty straightforward battle between good and evil and feels very derivative of the Lord of the Rings, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What sets the novel apart is the compelling characters and the intricate society Heitz has created for the dwarves. I was drawn to the characters, especially the bookish Tungdil and Bo├»dil, a beserker warrior who enjoys nothing more than cracking orcish skulls.

There is some hilarious banter between the companions. One of these interchanges that stood out is when Tungdil is berated for his lack of warrior skills: “Oh, books are very useful when it comes to fighting orcs. You could have killed the whole band of them with the right bit of poetry!

While Heitz stays true to the general perception of dwarves and other fantasy races he deftly manages to add his own touches such as a dwarven love for melted cheese; the numerous dwarven societies, skills and how the clans interact; and the introduction of shadow mares, a terrifying antithesis of unicorns who enjoy trampling their victims to death and devouring their flesh.
Without warning, one of the horses whipped round, jaws opening as it pounced. Sharp teeth closed around the orc’s shoulders and ripped out a sizable clump of flesh.

Green blood spurted from the wound as the orc retreated, shrieking. A second orcish trooper drew his sword and made to fell the rabid horse. Before he could strike, the steed’s hind leg lifted and sped into the orc’s broad chest. There was a flash of blinding light and the orc was thrown backward, traveling several paces before crashing to the ground.

The trooper had no time to right himself before the second horse was upon him. Its forelegs stove in his chest, hollowing his breastplate. His stomach burst with a sickening bang. In an instant the creature’s black jaws were at the orc’s unprotected throat. There was a sound of crunching bone and the orc’s anguished screaming broke off abruptly.

Tungdil watched in stunned horror as the steed swallowed the mouthful of flesh. The second creature let out a whinny of savage enjoyment. (p 105)
The translation from the original German seems to have been superbly handled by Sally-Ann Spencer. After reading about some of the difficulties she encountered during the translation process I’m sure it was not an easy task. My only criticism would be that they decided to use the term ‘orbit’ to denote days. This substation didn’t really make any sense and I found it so irritating that it detracted from the story somewhat.

The Verdict:
Overall I enjoyed The Dwarves and the interesting insight Heitz gives into dwarven society. While the plot is quite predictable it’s still a gripping read with some very memorable characters. If you are looking for epic fantasy that’s less complex than what George R.R. Martin and Steven Erikson has on offer then this will definitely satisfy.

I already have the second and third volumes, The War of the Dwarves and The Revenge of the Dwarves, waiting in my TBR-pile. The fourth book, The Fate of the Dwarves, will be released in August this year.

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good)

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