SFX book review – The Dwarves

by Dean on September 11, 2009

the dwarves SFX book review   The Dwarves

This review of Markus Heitz’s novel ‘The Dwarves’ appeared in science fiction magazine SFX, issue 186.

The Dwarves

Make a list of all the things you know about dwarves – braided beards, battle axes, good with hammers, fond of a beer or two, surnames designed to inspire respect (like Balendilin Onearm and Giselbert Ironeye), but actually give you the giggles.

Even the cover has a certain John Rhys Davis feel about it.

Because as you read The Dwarves, you can tick these attributes off one-by-one as the pint-sized Tungdil quests across an evil land to save the world of Girdlegard from a crazed sorcerer.

Yes, it does sound a little Lord of the Rings-y. But it’s a little faster on its feet than Tolkien’s classic. Our dwarven Frodo is Tungdil Bolofar, a bookish dwarf (and part-time blacksmith) who’s been raised in isolation by humans. For plot’s-sake, this means that Tungdil is rubbish at being a typical dwarf – he’s never met another one and can’t swing an axe.

So when a D&D army of Ȁlfar (think dark elves), ogres, gnomes, kobolds and orcs threatens a full-on fantasy apocalypse, Tungdil is the least-equipped to do anything about it.

Uprooted from his home, he finds himself proclaimed the unlikely heir to the dwarven kingdom. Cue a quest to see whether the unstoppable bad guy has his own tiny exhaust port, barely two metres wide.

Translated from Heitz’s German original, The Dwarves often reads like it’s been written by an English student with a new Thesaurus. The high fantasy flourishes do settle down. But for every inventive set-piece or dramatic skirmish, there’s a silly name to dent the mood – Nudin the Knowledge-Lusty and Maira the Life Preserver being two of our favourites.

Of course, it’s still strangely readable, chucking in zombies, self-centred wizards, political bickering and betrayal. It’s probably the greatest dwarf opera since George Lucas finished the script for Willow.

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