In this fantasy novel, a dwarf grapples with deception and a stark destiny that could save, or ruin, his people.
The Nameless Dwarf first appeared in Prior’s The Resurrection of Deacon Shader (2009) and later in his own series, collected in The Nameless Dwarf: The Complete Chronicles (2013). Here, readers get the character’s origin story, including his name and how he came to lose it. Carnifex Thane wears the red cloak of the Ravine Guard in Arx Gravis but seldom faces real fighting in the safe and predictable city. A theft in the Scriptorium by a homunculus, or deep gnome, is alarming, however. Even more so is a frightening and deadly incursion in the mines by a creature that the toga-clad human Aristodeus calls a golem. If golems are real, maybe the legendary Axe of the Dwarf Lords is, too. Carnifex’s brother Lucius, a scholar, wants to mount an expedition to find the Axe, but the city’s do-nothing Council opposes the plan. Several losses send Carnifex to spar with baresarks (wild dwarfs) in the fighting circles of the lower city; feeling he has nothing left to lose, Carnifex makes the risky decision to follow his brother seeking the Axe and fulfill a fool’s prophecy: “You must forget in order to find the truth of who you are.” Prior weaves a fully realized world in this rich fantasy, from history, political structure, and family life to work, food, drinking (lots of drinking), and romance. The characters are also well-developed. Carnifex, for example, though a doughty fighter and drinker in the best dwarf tradition, struggles with a black-dog depression that “feasted on scraps of vitality, hunted for glimmers of hope and happiness.” Dwarf women play a larger and more vigorous role than in most fantasy novels, as when “hammering out a beat on the top of a long table, froth spraying from their whiskers.” But the book’s theology and competing truth claims are confusing for the reader as well as for Carnifex, making it hard to assess his choices.
Immersive worldbuilding adds texture to this dark, intriguing tale about a fighter.