This is the first time I’ve tackled a book that was not originally written in English. “The Dwarves” was originally written in German. Although I haven’t read the original story as my German is very poor, it does not seem to have suffered in the translation. Markus Heitz has taken on an iconic fantasy race and molded them to fit his own story and successfully brought a new tale of this fantastic race.
A prologue introduces the reader to the story of a world of dwarves, orcs, dark elves, and magic. This opening serves to introduce some of the names and concepts that will infiltrate the remainder of the tale as well as build a tension which hooks the reader effectively allowing for a slow build-up of character development for the hero.
Chapter 1 opens the story with the trite plot of a protagonist, Tungdil the dwarf, living in a foreign world as a result of being abandoned as a child. However, that triteness is quickly left behind as Heitz begins to flesh out the world Tungdil inhabits. Two handy maps are included at the beginning of the book which are useful references as each chapter and major section mention various geographical locations. Don’t overlook the Dramatis Personae at the end of the book. There are so many characters introduced through this rich world that Heitz has created, that the Dramatis Personae becomes a helpful tool. The one missing reference that would have been helpful would be a time line, but I suppose that might give away part of the story.
Two items of note on the maps which may be confusing are the mention of the Five Kingdoms and the Enchanted Realms. The Five Kingdoms are the kingdoms of the dwarves, and the subjects of each are considered to be different races and referred to as Firstlings, Secondlings, etc. The Enchanted Realms are the domains of the mages established within the other kingdoms of the land.
The dialogue in “The Dwarves” is well written and flows easily. Because the beginning of Chapter 1 is full of dialogue which functions to lay out the good heart and general mood of Tungdil, it is easy to see why a prologue provided the necessary hook. Much of the story is revealed through the dialogue, and Heitz begins to show he has a mastery of the technique. Kudos also go to Sally-Ann Spencer, the translator, for putting such effective dialogue into another language.
As the tale progresses, we begin to see that Tungdil, while raised among humans since an infant, embraces his dwarven heritage. But, he quickly learns that much of what he knew of dwarves was knowledge written by humans. Many of his early encounters with those of his own race show him bumbling through the interactions and situations like this quickly endear Tungdil to the reader. It becomes so easy to see how this character develops that it could almost be a technical exercise to map out his “Hero’s Journey.”
Additional elements of the fantasy world Heitz brings to the story are dark elves (älfar), orcs, and duergar (gray dwarves). The dark elves have been known by many names in the fantasy genre, drow, moredhel, Moriquendi, and Night Elves, to name a few. In Heitz’s story, these are the most powerful and feared among the evil races and even his depictions of them border on legendary. In short, he has pulled the evil from these characters and smeared it across every mention of the älfar. Also, the gray dwarves, known as Thirdlings, play the part of the evil race of dwarves intent on the destruction of the rest of the dwarf race. Both play key parts in the story, but the history/depth behind these races leaves something to be desired.
In conclusion, I highly recommend “The Dwarves.” It is the beginning of what is currently a four book series, but this book does well on its own. As previously mentioned, the dialogue and well developed fantasy world enrich the overall story and what makes “The Dwarves” a five flag book for me.