Blurbs are an interesting beast. Designed to get to the crux of the book, sometimes they say too much, while at other times, they say too little. Some of them do a wonderful job of selling the reader on the book, while others don’t do enough to pique the reader’s interest. And during that sales pitch, some undersell the book, and others oversell it. If you’re wondering why I’m opening this review by discussing blurbs, no, I haven’t taken to reviewing these instead of the books themselves; this is indeed a review of J.D. Brink’s Dragon Slayers’ Guild: Hand of Fate, Book One. But for everything blurbs can do wrong—and everything they can do right—it is rare that four words in a blurb can so succinctly tell the reader everything they need to know about the book’s tone, and inform them about whether it’s up their alley. Dragon Slayers’ Guild’s blurb is one of these rarities. Those words? “High fantasy goes slumming.”
To be fair, the rest of Dragon Slayers’ Guild’s blurb does an admirable job of setting the scene and letting readers know what they’re in for, but “high fantasy goes slumming” seals the deal in a way that is perfectly emblematic of the book. This is a high fantasy novel where the stakes aren’t as high as readers would usually expect from the genre. It isn’t a classic fantasy tale like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy; instead, it is more akin to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. In the opening paragraph, I mused that “high fantasy goes slumming” tells the reader if the book is up their alley. To answer whether Dragon Slayers’ Guild is up my alley, I’ll just say that if Brink decides to continue the book’s world for as long as Pratchett continued Discworld, I would be very happy, indeed.
Like Sir Terry before him, Brink has not only created a wonderful fantasy world, but he has populated it with a fun plot that doesn’t take itself too seriously, great characters, and prose that captures the spirit of the story. I had a great time reading Dragon Slayers’ Guild, and the book feels very much like the author had a great time writing it. From the book’s beginning to its end, it is unadulterated fun that hooks the reader and doesn’t let them go until they’ve finished the book.
At an estimated 463 pages on Kindle (at the time of writing, there is not yet a paperback version, however the author has assured me that one is incoming), Dragon Slayers’ Guild is a lengthy book. While not particularly long for a high fantasy, it is long for one where the major focus is fun and shenanigans over gravitas. Broken up into three parts comprising forty-seven short, punchy chapters between them, the novel also features not one, but two prologues and epilogues. For readers who have a distaste for prologues and epilogues, this will no doubt mean double the pain, but as I’ve mentioned in other reviews, these are as good or as bad as the book allows them to be. In this example, they work beautifully, bookending the novel with looks at characters in the story’s periphery while setting up the world and providing a wonderful coda. While the story isn’t as sweeping as many a high fantasy, there is enough happening throughout it to warrant the book’s length. The pacing is on point, moving through the story quickly, while also developing its characters and providing plenty of worldbuilding.
This pacing is aided by fantastic prose, which casts an inviting tone. It is clean and always clear, making for a smooth reading. The book isn’t peppered with purple prose; instead, it takes the reader on a journey through which it tells them a 450 page plus in-joke. Written in a witty style that suits the story, it helps the overall joy that the book sparks. Not only does the writing convey the plot, and describe its characters and events, it paints the world in vivid detail while providing plenty of background information about the world, which serves to deepen the story further. While providing such detail can often hamper a story’s flow, it all transitions so beautifully that the book never loses momentum.
Brink has created a world that is as fantastic as it is fantastical. While very much taking place in a high fantasy setting, the world of The Dragon Slayers’ Guild is unique. It doesn’t feel like it takes place in the middle ages, but instead in a world of its own. To call back to the book’s blurb again, it may feature fantasy standards like elves and dragons, but it also takes a left turn with less featured races like gnomes, as well as others not mentioned in the blurb. But no matter the creature, whether it’s well-worn in high fantasy or not, the author puts a unique spin on them. Relations between the species are entertaining, but they are allegorical of the differences between us humans on the less-entertaining Earth, which the author uses to provide a positive message about acceptance.
Much of The Dragon Slayers’ Guild’s modern feel comes from its cast of characters, who feel and sound like they come from recent times. This adds to the book’s atmosphere thanks to their charm. While at the time of writing, I haven’t seen the new Dungeons and Dragons film, the characters feature a similar energy to those in the movie, or at least in its trailers. The three main characters, Selene, an elf, Solomon Dustwalker, a human, and Abbey Norm’l—my favourite—all provide the book’s point of view through clearly signposted chapters, and all (despite Abbey being my personal favourite) could have easily served as the book’s sole point of view character. Side characters, with wonderful names like Henrik Mazewaever, Ichabod “Iggy” Wrenfield, and a dragon named Mick, add further vivacity to the world. The dialogue throughout the book pops, as the characters bounce off one another.
As the book’s subtitle, Hand of Fate, Book One, states, this is the first book in a series. If you’re dissuaded by books promising a series because you’re concerned about not getting a full story, don’t be. While not a done-in-one, the book stands alone well enough that it makes for a thoroughly engaging standalone story. While there’s more story to tell, as beautifully teased within its pages, The Dragon Slayers’ Guild feels like a complete experience.
The Dragon Slayers’ Guild is a great fantasy tale made even greater by its sense of humour. Never taking itself too seriously, it is packed full of wonderful characters and brilliant worldbuilding. It may be smaller in scope than most high fantasies, but that’s part of its charm. As its blurb says, “high fantasy goes slumming,” and this is a perfect way of describing how it twists a beloved genre.
The sun was down and sky dark by the time Abby Norm’l had made her way into Limestone Lanes. And she had not travelled unnoticed. In fact, she was quite the spectacle, if the number of stares and nudges to neighbors were a good gauge of measurement.
She might even have bordered on mounted knight, or something akin to it. Riding her pony, Sergeant Peppercorn, at a steady pace. Bearing strange weaponry: the witch rod on her hip (though this was scarcely noticeable, a six-inch length of metal tucked at her belt) and a small quiver and repeating crossbow at her back, the arc of its arms wider than she herself. The red-breasted metal bird perched on the crossbow’s butt. Abbey herself dressed in brown leather breeches, black riding boots, and her newly revealed, stark scarlet jerkin, a garment of form-fitting leather armor with shiny metal studs patterned for reinforcement. And now with her short spiky hair dyed bright crimson in the proud tradition of the Ax’l clan color.Dragon Slayers’ Guild: Hand of Fate, Book One, Part III: “Dragons,” Chapter 39
Dragon Slayers’ Guild: Hand of Fate, Book One was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.
Dragon Slayers’ Guild is available on Kindle exclusive to Amazon. A paperback version will be released in the near future.
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Interested in purchasing Dragon Slayers’ Guild?
Please find a link below; please note I do not collect any proceeds from the sale.Dragon Slayers’ Guild: Epic Dark Fantasy (Hand of Fate Book 1)