Sunday, July 31, 2011

Thud! by Terry Pratchett

A few weekends ago I was in the fantasy fiction section of a local independent bookstores when I chanced upon Thud! face-out on the shelf. It's a great cover, right? I think this is the first time I bought a book based purely on the cover design (well, it also helped that it was on a staff's recommendation shelf) Anyway, I'm glad I got it. Thud! is excellent. I wasn't aware of Terry Pratchett, but I have since discovered he is an immensely popular author. It turns out there are almost forty titles in his fantasy Discworld series.

In its essence Thud! is a humorous (definitely spelled with the British extra "u") fantasy world cop drama. The captain of the City Watch is the central character supported by his town guard of humans, dwarfs, a werewolf, and a vampire. Commander Sam Vimes must contend with dwarf-troll tensions within the citizenry, a murder mystery, out-of-town dwarfs flouting city laws, and rumors of an ancient demon. The compelling plot steers clear of typical fantasy story lines, and it has a satisfying ending.

Pratchett created thorough and convincing cultures for his dwarfs and trolls with compelling inter-species and intra-species politics. I have to admit, while I was reading the first couple chapters I thought the book might be too silly for me. Some of the vampires talk like The Count from Sesame street, and some of the dwarfs have goofy names. But, I'm glad a I kept going. Thud! is a smart fantasy, and I look forward to reading more of Pratchett's series.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Gripping Beast Pony and Celt Villager

These two models come from Gripping Beast. Under the Livestock section of their catalog you'll find this shaggy beast, which to me looks like an Exmoor Pony. The man comes from their pack of unarmored celtic warriors. I made the bag he's carrying out of putty. I didn't mean to, but I ended up painting this guy in the same colors as my celtic boar hunter from two years ago.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Sleeping Dragon, by Joel Rosenberg

There's a thread on The Miniatures Page about favorite Dungeons & Dragons novels. Although not official D&D books, the Guardians of The Flame series was suggested by one commenter. I got the first book in the series, The Sleeping Dragon, from my local used bookstore (for only $1.50). It was published in 1983, which is apparent when you read the first chapter. The main characters seem like they could have been taken from a John Hughes film: there's the jock, the nerd, the easy girl, the reserved girl, etc.

The modern-day role-playing gamers are magically transported to the very fantasy world they've been playing. Each of them appears in the body of the character they created back at their college campus. So the wheelchair-bound nerd wakes up in a sturdy dwarf body, the drama major is a muscly warrior, and so on. The premise is a common one. I can think of a 1980s Saturday morning cartoon, a 1980s/90s computer game series, and a bunch of other novels that magically place a modern character in the past or in a fantasy world. Still, I'm sure it's an appealing idea. I for one remember reading LOTR when I was in junior high and wishing I could wake up in Middle Earth.

The characters proceed to travel the magic land in search of a portal back home. The story is made up of a series of short encounters/adventures, that are similar to the playing sessions of a RPG. Rosenberg vividly describes his world and writes well, but I found the central premise to be distracting. The constant reminders that these college kids are really from earth prevented me from immersing myself into the fantasy world. There are seven characters who go by their ordinary earth names and/or their role-playing character names. I didn't get a hang of all these names until about half way through the book. Yet, there was something engaging about the duality of these characters. The personalty of a rpg character was often at odds with the mind of the kid from earth. It was interesting to see how each of them dealt with this internal conflict.

The plot ran well, although it got unexpectedly disturbing near the end. I don't want to spoil the book with details, but I have to say the events seemed inappropriately dark for a book with such a frivolous premise (this is not a book to give to your kid). This was Rosenberg's first novel, so it might be interesting to see how his writing and story developed in the next book of the series. If I happen to find a $1.50 copy of The Sword and the Chain the next time I'm browsing, then I'll probably pick it up for a read.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Dwarves, by Markus Heitz

I've been reading The Lord of the Rings to my kids at night, which got me thinking I should look into other fantasy fiction for myself. As a history buff I don't usually read novels, so I have only two reference points for judging fiction: the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Bernard Cornwell. It might seem terribly unfair to judge a fantasy novel against those two heavy-hitters, but there you go.

My new foray into fantasy fiction starts with The Dwarves, by Markus Heitz. The story centers on Tungdil, an orphaned dwarf raised by humans far from his kin. The only knowledge he has of other dwarves comes only from books. This character's isolation is a convenient opportunity for exposition. As Tungdil learns about the lands and the people of the world, the reader does too. Unfortunately, these characters and descriptions are lacking in depth. Heitz' book does not offer a strong sense of place. On his quest Tungdil rushes from one land to the next. Distracted by dangerous encounters, we absorb little detail of his surroundings. The dwarf's relationship with his human hosts had potential, but this storyline was dropped early on. An aging dwarf king involves Tungdil in an intriguing conflict of royal succession. Yet, the plot relies on a standard fantasy device: seeking a magic weapon so the chosen one can destroy the bad guy.

Ordinarily in a supporting role, the dwarf is at the center of this fantasy story. I did enjoy reading The Dwarves, I was just expecting more. It would be interesting to compare this book to Warhammer's newly published The Dwarfs.