Dubbleyew’s clumsy yet charming debut fantasy tells the story of the Seven Dwarves’ childhood.
When ogres overrun her home, young Zee calls upon the dragon-elves to save her and two important babies: her little sister, Rose, and a boy she names Thoran. Decades later, Rose bears Thoran seven sons whose destinies are somehow connected to the ancient scrolls of Harot. Soon, the family’s bucolic existence is threatened by Council Master Angus Grimsdyke, who’s secretly raising an army of monsters to take over the kingdom. Dubbleyew’s world deals in familiar epic-fantasy tropes: cryptic prophecies, hidden artifacts and little moral ambiguity. (In one rather sweet exception to the latter, Grimsdyke’s slow-witted sidekick, Max, who was turned into a dog against his will, finds joy in his new life as the family’s pet.) There’s no shortage of imagination: Dubbleyew invents some entertaining creatures and settings—Ghastenblood’s Keep is a predatory castle that twines itself into existence from the forest itself—and he’s at his best writing battle scenes; the dwarves bringing down an ogre the size of a mountain is a particularly exciting, visceral sequence. Additionally, his decision to have the dragon-elves’ dialect seem more backwoods Americana (“I remember when ya woke…an’ ya saw da babies next ta ya”) than the genre’s usual faux-medieval diction is a bold if sometimes distracting choice. From a structural standpoint, however, the story can be a difficult read. Points of view often shift from clause to clause, and paragraphs and chapters seem to begin and end at random. Full of ungainly exclamations—“WHAAAAAT,” “Ohhhhhh”—the dialogue has a curious preoccupation with bodily functions that’s at odds with the frequent gore. The seven boys have little to distinguish them from each other, and trying to make sure they all have a line in a given scene can make for a clunky, drawn-out narrative.
An imperfect labor of love; when the author’s having this much fun, readers can’t help but be swept along.