John Scritchfield spends his days wrangling three future readers and his nights wearing costumes and pretending to hit people with blunt weaponry. There is very little money it. He holds an MFA in Acting, which he puts to use by teaching at a Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan and as the Creative Director for the Calvin Theatre Company. In his free time, he enjoys playing Dungeons & Dragons, reading, writing, and spending time with his wife, three children, and two cats (Jasnah and Vin). Oh, he's also the new Booknest Admin.
The Look of a King by Tom Dumbrell was the most surprising read for my small part of this year’s SPFBO. At 272, it is one of the shorter entries Booknest has reviewed and yet it didn’t feel too short at all. Instead, this truly felt like a book that used the amount of words necessary to tell its story, and I deeply appreciate it. In a market where it seems quantity is oftentimes more valued than quality, I admit even I turn my nose up on occasion to books under 300 pages. It’s a failing, I’m aware. In any case, The Look of a King laid any of my apprehensions to rest within the first few chapters as I found the story and characters almost immediately interesting.
The story primarily revolves around two young men with very different lives: Cyrus, a young storyteller who feels confined by his mundane provincial life, and Augustus, a snooty princeling struggling to live up to the kingdom’s expectations. Our inciting incidents take place when the king is assassinated and Cyrus is driven from his home by soldiers. These ensuing chaos sets the course for the rest of the story.
Dumbrell’s prose is lean while never feeling stilted, which fits the magicless medival fantasy world. Our two POV characters are compelling and the shorter chapters gave the story a tremendous sense of forward momentum. This turned out to be a good thing as I read the entirety of it in a few sittings without killing an entire day. I would have been interested in a number of the side characters enough to actually read chapters from their POV. I don’t think it would have been at all necessary so I appreciate the lack of filler, but Dumbrell certainly has the writing chops (I hate that word) for a grander epic fantasy story.
In conclusion, I would gladly recommend The Look of a King to anyone who enjoys shorter works of fantasy or would like a break from the doorstops that dominate the genre. This is a self-published book I would be proud to have resting on my shelf.
I have tried a couple of times to read Greed by Viljami J. I made it twenty percent on this most recent attempt, but I am finally giving up and calling this a DNF. The story seems to revolve around Ethan and Gabriel, two lifelong friends and unlikeable criminals, who within the opening pages of the story attempt to rob an old man, determine they’re going to plunder the wealth of Mount Valhalla, and meet a pair of siblings (a tough sister and her effeminate but not gay – the author lets us know – brother). The four determine to travel together because...sure...and they make it to a town where there are prostitutes, which is cool because Gabriel is, “no stranger to non-platonic relationships with women.”
I finished the chapter before I tapped out. Ethan calls his friend/brother “G” and the sister character says “y’all” a few times. Tonally, the story is all over the place. It tells and never shows. The narrator head hops to tell us what everyone is thinking and feeling. The characters are unlikable. The writing lacks any depth. For me, this read more like an outline than a polished manuscript. I would humbly recommend a developmental editor.
I went into A Cat’s Guide to Bonding with Dragons knowing nothing of the story. Judging by the title alone and the cover art, I expected a lighthearted romp with Terry Pratchett vibes where a cat becomes a dragon rider, and that is essentially what I received. The premise is fairly simple: an Earth cat is transported to a secondary fantasy world by an evil warlock. The evil warlock is a terrible pet owner (because duh) and uses our protagonist feline Ben to kill the demonic rats he inadvertently summons. When Ben finally escapes, he finds his way to a dragon academy where an obstinate dragon Salanraja decides to bond him. What ensues is a pretty standard fantasy adventure but with an anthropomorphic cat in place of the farm boy, which does provide enough of a change of pace to make this a unique experience.
Although there is an attempt at that Discworld humor, it didn’t resonate with me in a way I had hoped. It’s by no means bad or cringeworthy, and it is most certainly lighthearted. It just wasn’t laugh out loud funny. But considering that I was reading The Trouble with Peace concurrently, it provided a nice amount of levity.
At the end of the day, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys lighthearted fantasy, and for me it was a nice palette cleanser, which is exactly what I want when I reach for something Pratchett-esque. So, check it out, I think you’ll enjoy it.
Also, on a side note, I blame Rick & Morty for making me imagine Matthew Broderick as Ben's voice.