1/09/2010. Contributed by Neale Monks
pub: Orbit/LittleBrown. 719 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-573-6.
check out website: www.orbitbooks.net
'The War Of The Dwarves' is the second part of 'The Dwarves' series of books concerning Tungdil, a dwarf brought up among humans but now finding himself fighting alongside his own kind. This reviewer enjoyed the first book, 'The Dwarves', in the series a good deal, noting in particular the high quality of the translation from German into English by Sally-Ann Spencer. Although very traditional fantasy in the style of Tolkien or for that matter an R.A. Salvatore 'Forgotten Realms' tie-in, the 'Dwarves' series has so far proven to be engaging and entertaining and by concentrating on an underused race of humanoids, does bring something new to its readership.
As the second book in a trilogy, the story is necessarily incomplete, though the central themes of the book, the divisions between the dwarf kingdoms, are more or less unfurled in their entirety. Because the main character, Tungdil, is as unfamiliar with dwarven politics as the reader, Markus Heitz is able to present new material without too much cumbersome exposition. Instead, the reader learns about things in stages, just as the characters do. It's a very satisfying approach that adds to the readability of the book.
Tungdil is revealed to be a member of the rebellious Thirdling Kingdom and this causes problems for him and his love, Balyndis. They're pulled apart by tradition and honour and Balyndis ends up married to another dwarf. At the same time, the magical axe forged in the previous novel is lost and the alliance Tungdil had built up starts to fall apart.
On the debit side, there is a 'set piece' quality to the series. Just as one enemy is defeated, another more dangerous one appears almost out of nowhere. The immortal orcs that cause Tungdil and his friends so much trouble early on in 'The War Of The Dwarves' if not quite contrived are certainly useful tools for getting the action moving through the first few chapters. Our heroes fight a battle, they move to another location, fight another battle and so on several times through the novel. Even the frustrated love story between Tungdil and Balyndis is a bit formulaic, even if it does add some depth to the characters involved. The same might be said about the inner turmoil Tungdil feels at those stages of the book where it isn't entirely certain he's going to do the right thing. He's so obviously the hero of an eminently traditional fantasy novel that any suggestions he might do the wrong thing can be disregarded as literary misinformation.
Still, these are minor flaws in what is basically a solid middle-volume in what looks set to be a popular series of books. The action flows along nicely and the interactions between the main characters are entertaining and often funny. The development of elf and orc characters gives this book a bit more texture than the previous one and the tensions between the allied races are given just enough space to be explored adequately well. Even though the plot is basically linear, there are some interesting twists and revelations that keep the thing from feeling flat. Overall, a good read.
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