Monday, March 14, 2016

The War of the Dwarves

The War of the Dwarves
by Markus Heitz
Recommended Ages: 14+

Tungdil Goldhand, the hero of The Dwarves, doesn't get long to bask in the glory of forging an axe of power, slaying a dark wizard, and being called to re-found an extinct dwarvish kingdom, one of five in the mountain-encircled realm of Girdlegard. His true love's clan refuses to give him her hand in marriage because, in spite of his heroics, they don't trust him - a foundling, an orphan, and a member of the Thirdling kingdom, known as the dwarf killers because of their murderous hatred of all other dwarves. Even though Tungdil was raised by humans and has never wished to harm a dwarf, he must stand by and watch another dwarf become both the first king of the new Fifthlings and the husband of Balyndis.

While Tungdil nurses his broken heart, new threats are arising in Girdlegard. Like its hero, the realm doesn't get much time to breathe after its last victory over evil. The last surviving mage uses treacherous means to recruit her famula, or apprentice, to pass on the secrets of magic. This proves to be a mistake, because Narmora is not the type to forgive or forget. Her moment of vengeance comes just when the danger is greatest and Girdlegard needs its mage more than ever. For on the one hand, the Thirdlings are deviously trying to drive a wedge between the dwarves and their human and elven allies, without whom the realm is defenseless against orcs, goblins, and worse. On the other hand, one particular band of orcs has discovered the secret to a kind of undead immortality, and they are about to make a move on the Fifthling kingdom just as it starts to rebuild its defenses. On the third hand, a meteor collision, earthquake, and avalanche play havoc with other dwarven strongholds. On the fourth hand, there's a race of dark elves called älfar, who just want to kill everybody. And on the fifth hand, there's a rumor that some kind of demigods, or avatars of the god of chaos and evil, are preparing to unleash a scorched-earth brand of cleansing on the lands and peoples of Girdlegard. And while in the thick of all these crises, Tungdil must deal with personal losses, betrayals, vendettas, and an all-but-ceaseless series of battles to the death.

It's an action-packed story, challenging its hero with a complex weave of cosmic and personal problems, and recalling many other deeply moving myths in which there is no place for the hero in the world he has saved. It is a thick, bustling, heavily populated tale of folklore within folklore, threats within threats, plots within plots, and an enormously high body count by the end. It also has endearing comic-relief characters, tragic romances, astounding feats, clever gambits, and subtle political ploys. It satisfies on so many levels that it is bound to please almost anybody who goes in for dwarves, orcs, elves, and wizards.

The only thing I would ding this book for is its irritating conceit of calling days "orbits" and years "cycles." The "orbits" bit in particular does not make sense. Why not call a day a day and a year a year? Why does this have to be hard?

This sequel to The Dwarves was translated from German to English by Sally-Ann Spencer. It is the second book in the "Dwarves" series, and is followed by The Revenge of the Dwarves and The Fate of the Dwarves. A fifth book in the series, The Triumph of the Dwarves, is not yet available in English. Heitz has also written a related series called "The Legends of the Älfar," a thriller set in the modern age titled Oneiros, and many more dark fantasy titles yet to be translated.

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