A noble warrior attempts to make a better world in this satirical fantasy from Aubin (Fires of Ferndean, 2019, etc.).
A messenger arrives in Rufus’ village of Green Hole to inform everyone that there is now one true god—Ethyl—and that all men of fighting age must join the crusade against the doubting pagans. No one is all that convinced of the new religion, but peasants don’t have much say in such matters. Rufus the blacksmith is no different, and he marches off to war with his recognizable “ugly” sword that gives him his name. After defeating the enemy champion in single combat, the blacksmith is sent off to kill a dragon and collect a reward. He slays a deceitful noble and, in the process, acquires a wife and her land. From the position of power, Rufus is suddenly able to correct some of the injustices of the feudal system. When the king attacks Green Hole over an unpaid debt, Rufus simply relocates the villagers to a nearby kingdom. Serving a new, kind king, he attempts to bring peace and justice to a world more often categorized by theft and exploitation. But is such a thing even possible in a land riven by dragons, war, and mountains of customs paperwork? Aubin writes in mock-epic prose that summons the fantasy tradition: “The men reached Bayside just before sunset and found themselves seated at a round wooden table, their hunger satiated, their drink almost done. Robert stared wistfully into his ale, the attention of the beautiful ladies of Bayside all but ignored.” The story is light in tone, but despite some jokey names—Robert the Insane, Steve the Assassin—it isn’t all that funny. Its earnest belief in a more just society actually seems to echo the medieval romances that it chidingly references. The book is short, and the pacing is quick, but the story itself is a bit too skeletal and rushed to be truly immersive. It’s the type of novel that seems like it was probably a lot more fun to write than it is to actually read.
A slim faux fantasy epic that doesn’t ultimately have much original to say.