cover for the illustrated book

I’m not typically a fantasy fan, which is odd given my all-time favorite movie is The NeverEnding Story. I do like the occasional dip into the genre but as a whole it’s not really my cup of tea. And yet I ended up with this book.

In the 1990s Comico was offering an audition kit, filled with the kinds of things you would need to audition to work at the comic book company. Out of curiosity and wanting to get into comics I ordered one since it was being offered through the usual comic catalog my local comic store at the time was using. It included samples of Comico’s offerings at the time, a way to show potential creators what they were looking for. None of the offerings really matched the kinds of stories I like to tell, and thus I never even attempted to send anything in for review. It wasn’t the same comic it was in the 1980s, when I would read issues of Robotech or other licensed properties. Not that they were bad stories mind you, just not the kind that interested me as a creator or even a reader.

Part of these samples was an illustrated book called Kingdom Of The Dwarfs, released in a comic book format but it’s not a comic book. There are no word balloons or comic panels. It’s a book with some rather amazing illustrations by artist David Wenzel, and written by Robb Walsh. I’ve been trying to get this review done for the past few weeks, not because it’s that large. It really isn’t. It is more a question of personal interest than anything else.

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The framing device for the book is that it is a collection made by a Sir William Plum, the associate director of the Royal Academy of Archaeological Sciences of notes taken by Dr. Egil Dvaergen, who (long story short, told in a letter to get right to the good part of the book) finds an abandoned dwarf city underneath a man’s house. Since the man is anxious to get his prize-winning flowers growing on time they have a limited window in order to explore the city since his flower bed is where they’re accessing the underground habitats. I’m not sure how believable that set-up is given some archaeologists obsession with their craft and this would have been the find of the century. Still, I’ll just assume he’s a decent guy who…I don’t know, really likes flowers or something. It doesn’t matter really since it’s just an excuse to explain why the rest of us weren’t aware of this find, as they’re keeping things quite until a full investigation can be made once growing season is over. This is an example of the level of detail taken to keep you immersed in the tale.

What follows are a series of observations of the city, which appears to have been abandoned in a hurry given how things were left behind, including leaving food to rot. Or maybe a plague or something killed them all off, and for some reason there aren’t bones lining the streets. The book really doesn’t give any theories as to what happened to the dwarfs. The back cover talks about how they were part of our collective history until the Christians denounced them, which I find insulting as a Christian. Plus given how Christian writers like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien would use them in their stories this hardly makes sense either. The book also makes the claim that the dwarfs were technologically advanced for their time, more so than humans of the period where “middle earth” style fantasies are based on. They’ve developed everything from water pumps (so not quite where we are today) to steam-powered heavy equipment (equivalently speaking of course…hardly as big as even equipment from 1991, when my copy of the book was made). I wonder if this makes dwarfs the first steampunks?

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As I said, there is a huge attention to detail. While what we are reading are merely theories of dwarf life, culture, and kingship the book is presented in that “of course I’m right” attitude that you’d expect from someone like this. There aren’t a lot of “probably” or “if I were hazard a guess”. He’s sure he’s figured out everything. It doesn’t really come off as arrogant and it could just be Walsh’s way of keeping this seem like a “definite guide” to the reader but it something to note. And as you’ve seen in this article the artwork is nothing short of amazing. Wenzel paints some good pictures of what life might have been like for this ancient underground race to match the narrator’s notations and conjectures. If you enjoy fantasy stories, worldbuilding, and dwarfs, you may really enjoy this book.

Therein lies my problem. As a storyteller I can fully appreciate the hard work that went into crafting this book. I don’t know how much research Walsh did into dwarf folklore but the attention to detail is really quite good. And yet I couldn’t bring myself to finish the book because as I stated at the beginning of this review I’m just not a high-end fantasy person, and barely dip into low-end fantasy, although there have been occasions when I’ve peeked into both. This is definitely high-end fantasy and if that’s your genre of choice you will love this book, or perhaps you would prefer the recent extended version released by IDW Publishing in which Walsh and Wenzel expand on what was done in this book. Maybe that even has a theory as to what happened to the dwarfs who lived in this hidden city. As for me, as much as I can appreciate it technically I can’t really get into it personally so it’s better off finding a home that will better enjoy it.

Decision: goes