Book Review: Kingshold

Many, many years ago, the revered scribe J.R.R. Tolkien wrote “Not all who wander are lost.” Wise he may have been, but he apparently never traveled with me. While our trip north was much less eventful than our trip south, I still had to spend most of Sunday in Bowling Green, KY, coping with a blowout on my car and a busy day at the tire shop. (Did I mention the perpetual rainstorm that day? I can understand where all the green comes from, though I sure didn’t feel like bowling.) However, my clan kept me sane and safe, as they always do, and we are nestled into our Midwest home. I have time now for my writing and my reading, and my reviews will once again grace the digital pages of this noble blog, for so long as the Muses bless me with wisdom and the Dragons spare me from a fiery grave.

Today, I get to talk about another independent book, one brought by winged messenger to the mountaintop aerie of Way Too Fantasy’s local headquarters and carried with me along the road to this strange new location amidst the Great Lakes. (We have many locations throughout the Multiverse, though I rarely get to visit them anymore. If you think customs is hard in our reality, wait until you have to explain your luggage to a couple of grumpy Ogres. Do you have any idea how long it takes to empty a Bag of Holding? But I digress.) Today’s book also deals with politics and customs in a way that is rarely discussed in fantasy fiction today, and the plot that wends its way through this rich milieu is enchanting, thrilling, and funny, unlike the conversation I had regarding a +2 Crowbar of Ogre Slaying that someone else must have slipped into my baggage.

There is a lot to talk about in this week’s book, Kingshold, by D. P. Woolliscroft, but I’ll begin with my one criticism. This book has a slower pace than a lot of fantasy fiction. It’s not quite as slow as, say, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell or Remembrance of Things Past (both books I enjoyed, but then again, the first thing my wife remembers hearing about me, back when we were in Middle School together, was that I read dictionaries, for fun, and that wasn’t a false rumor). It does, however, take a while to get going, but the time spent in the first third of the book is definitely time well spent. The world described in this book is rich and detailed, a refreshing departure from most cookie-cutter fantasy realms, but be prepared to spend a lot of time meeting with different guilds and factions, politicians and merchants. I considered this one of the better things about this book, but it is a little different from a lot of fantasy, especially independent fantasy, being published today.

If you don’t mind spending a double-handful of pages watching a feudal society come to grips with the realities of a somewhat democratic election, as I didn’t, you are going to love this book, as I did. The main characters are all instantly memorable (especially the alcoholic washed-up bard who discovers a new career as a PR man and electioneer in a city that has only known the rule of sword and crown) but all of the characters are fresh and intriguing and trying to do their best in an alien and changing environment. And like most epic fantasies, there is a near-omnipotent wizard, an historical source of deus ex machina, but unlike Gandalf or the Druid Allanon, our Wizard in Kingshold has become incredibly tired of machina-ing all the time and wants to retire to a beach somewhere. The plot of this book does take a few chapters to become evident, but by the time it does, I knew enough about every player on the stage that I was as affected by their trials as I would have been had I lived in Kingshold myself.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone who likes a little realism with their fantastic magic-drenched fiction, or to anyone who has wondered how our modern actors in the news, entertainment, and political industries would fare in a realm of shamans, magic, and assassin’s guilds. I’m looking forward to spending more time in this world, too.

Next week, I have tales of classic not-quite-fantasy, and perhaps some folklore as well. Until then, I bid you a good day, full of magic and wonder, and hopefully far away from any angry Ogre customs officials. If you happen to see one with a crowbar stuck in his tuchus, by the way, tell him you didn’t see me.

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