Monday, June 18, 2012

The Dwarves Ascending

20. The Dwarves by Markus Heitz

The "sheer bloodymindedness" and "stubbornness" of dwarves is on display in this epic adventure starring fantasy's traditionally sidelined warriors.

I never felt that the dwarves got fair billing. Even in The Hobbit, where they compose the majority of the characters, they're used either as an example of the corruption of riches or comic relief. Lord of the Rings, to its credit, does not use its one dwarf, Gimli, in either of those manners, but the movies do pigeonhole him into the comic role.

So when I saw the title of Heitz's book, I knew I had to read it.

Heitz's dwarves, the guardians of a set of kingdoms known as Girdlegard, are what everyone expects of dwarves-and more. He shows how dwarves' loyalty, determination, noted skills in fighting as well as the practical arts, from metalwork to masonry to diamond-cutting, make them heroes, worthy of the readers' sympathy and attention. He creates five dwarven kingdoms, descended from the five fathers of dwarves. Each race is gifted with a different skill and charged with guarding a different gate into Girdlegard from the hordes of "Tion's minions," including orcs, trolls, and other creatures of Heitz's creation.

Tungdil is the only dwarf in the household of Lot-Ionan, one of the six great magi of Girdlegard. He is content in his position as blacksmith, but occasionally wonders what it would be like to meet another dwarf. From Lot-Ionan's books, he has taught himself dwarfish and learned all he could of dwarven history. When Lot-Ionan sends him on a mission to deliver some items to another wizard, he suggests that Tungdil take a detour to the kingdom of the secondling dwarves. Nothing, however, goes quite as planned.

The very beginning of this book is extremely dark, which I found different and exciting. I began to expect some George R.R. Martin plot twists, with far superior writing and a sparser cast list. That is not exactly the case, and it shapes up very soon into a more standard fantasy plotline, EXCEPT of course that this book is about dwarves, and dwarven culture and character color every inch of it. That is what makes this book stand out.

The plot is in some places darker, because dwarves are darker and more grim, capable of withstanding so much more than their man, hobbit, and elf counterparts. This world calls uniquely upon the skills of the dwarves, in ways in which the softness of men and otherworldliness of elves cannot compete. The Elves play a very minimal role in the story, very purposely so, and the humans, while granted a larger part, would be all but helpless without their dwarven guardians.

The writing is clear and direct, but detailed in all the right places. It is translated from German, and I could imagine the German speech being more capable of rendering the language and feel of the dwarves, but I don't speak German, so I'll have to do with the English.

I'm looking forward to reading the two sequels, The War of the Dwarves and The Revenge of the Dwarves. For pure epic fantasy adventure, I could not recommend The Dwarves more highly. While it's not SFF Lit to the degree I initially thought, I think I will keep it in the running due to the relative originality of fashioning dwarves into heroes.

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