Monday, October 6, 2014

Nasty Little Hobbitses...

Full disclosure on this one. My half-brother, Charles Ebert, recently self-published his first novel. I was lucky enough to receive a copy as a gift. How that affects this review is up to you and your own perceptions.

As for the title of this post, as Chuck notes in his acknowledgements, it's his "Lord of the Rings", which really is kind of fitting. (We'll return to this here in a bit.)

So.... The Sword of Dalmar starts off fairly cryptically with some guy waking up on an island. We then proceed to meet Buckle, who handles most of the affairs of Roduct's Delamarian estate. Roduct is a Sarondak, a race of desert people who live east of the Barrier mountain. (Delamar, of course, is the far west, abutting the sea.) Roduct is one of the few Sarondakis to throw off Soowooli, which is a form of fire magic that, near as I can infer, imprisons the soul and Will of someone in a jar, making them more or less a slave. 

The Sarondaki are ruled by the Immortal Skrike, who, prior to the events chronicled here, once ruled all the way to the sea from their desert home across the Barrier Mountains. The story goes that Dalmar (He of the eponymous sword) and his girlfriend (who was more or less a lady of a lake) went to kill Skrike, failed, but managed to inspire the three western kingdoms to drive back Skrike's forces.(the sword was forged with magic of all the elements, and therefore the only thing capable of killing an immortal)

Roduct gets a Sarondaki visitor, in the middle of a dark and stormy night. After chasing the visitor away, Roduct draws up a new will leaving his estate to Buckle. Which is all well and good, until the next morning, when the corrupt sheriff of the district comes by accusing Roduct (now conspicuously missing) of murdering his late night visitor. As such, Buckle, along with estate hand Yazzle (who fills the big and dumb role) and female warrior Zabeth (who starts off as a scullion who trained under the armsmaster of the estate) take off for the East to find Roduct.

Along the way, they pick up Bindle (another warrior, who more or less deserted his post) and the Water Witch Krinseth (who uses her magic to track Roduct.) All of which eventually leads to a split party, with the asthmatic Buckle and Yazzle stuck in Skrike's dungeon mining coal, while Bindle and Zabeth join up with Constable Kebble raiding the Sarandaki parties in the desert. Since it is a desert, Krinseth spends most of the latter half of the book in a self created cairn waiting on a rain storm in the desert.

While the book has more than a few rough patches (In particular, the 3 Western rulers are basically plot expositions with names), it's quite readable. I rather enjoyed that Zabeth didn't fall into the old fantasy trope about the warrior woman who finds a man and calms down. When she does end up taking a lover, it's on her terms and in no way diminishes her chosen profession. Asthma was a unique quirk to give the main character, although I imagine some of that had to do with the author's own issues in childhood and beyond. The lack of some of the more abused fantasy tropes (there's no guiding prophecy that everyone is fulfilling, no real non-humanoid races) helps quite a bit. That this was technically written 30+ years ago (and has probably undergone several revisions since then)  also helps avoid the plague of either gritty realism with every major character dying or the sunshine and rainbows with everyone getting a happy ending. I also like that the full story of Dalmar and his lver is never spelled out in a long block of exposition; we get it in bits and pieces and are forced to infer the truth from various perspectives.

And yes, there are quite a few Tolkien-esque moments throughout the narrative, including a bit towards the end that while not quite driving Saruman from Hobbiton, it did echo that sequence. Then again, most of the sword and sorcery fantasy genre owes a debt to tolkien, although thankfully, most of those authors don't get quite so verbose with it. (Because, seriously, the wall of text that was Ent society and the wall of boringness that was Tom Bombadil.)

Since it is self published, I don't think it's available at a normal bookstore. So, in one of those rare instances where I link something... You can buy the paperback or kindle version from Amazon.