K. L. Morgan. TriQuest Publishing 405 pages September 1997
The first impressions are bad. Lightening fingered fantasy couple on the cover complete with pious “arty” stare-away-from-the-viewer expressions, pointy ears and dodgy facial hair. Maps, badly reproduced by what appears to be a dot matrix printer, are always a warning sign. Letter of endorsement from Terry Brooks. A mention of the JRRT-word. And the ultimate recommendation, that we’d want to read this book for the “pure…goodness of it”. Goddess Hryxqator spare your humble servant and smite these omens with the might of your blessed trident! A little way in and the faux archaic language coupled with the worrying prospect of gnomes appearing at some point raise the level of concern to boiling point. But despite these anxieties (mercifully the aforementioned gnomes are teasingly only referred to in passing) there lurks a spritely and, dare we say, enjoyable tale of adventure.
Relatively young delf Wit has unwittingly discovered a secret hidden fortress (indeed the plot bears many similarities to Kurosawa’s epic film), and the surrounding countryside is littered with murdered bodies from all races (bar those bloody gnomes). He manages to make it back to civilisation and asks the ruling council to set up a team to engage on a reconnaissance mission to discover the reason for the fortress popping up out of nowhere. Naturally the team are made up of all races (bar those bloody gnomes). Meanwhile Lady Fiarah the Historian has been kidnapped in a magically superior ambush by… well that would be telling… leaving her ballad-writing paramour floundering in his elven court. Why has she been abducted and who, if anyone, can save her?
Trotting along at a decent pace Castledance stumbles occasionally but regains its footing well. There are a number of twists to keep things fresh (trolls are not necessarily bad and have a penchant for long and flowery names) while the realisation of the magic is imaginative and clear. The level of detail in throwaway touches such as descriptions of fauna or bread help flesh out the world far more than the aforementioned maps. And when Wit comes across dead bodies it affects him, even if he doesn’t know them – there is an inherent humanity in him that would often be replaced with angst or testosterone in other works. Overall it’s nothing new but as an undemanding read for early teens you could do a lot worse, the goodness of it notwithstanding…