I came across Joseph Malik first via his article 30 Day Cliff, My Ass: Reflections on 10,000 Sales. It resonated deeply with my experience and choices. Although my journey has been different (I didn’t bother querying), I came to the same conclusions and decisions in choosing the do-it-myself path without compromising on professional quality in my books. I highly recommend you read his column.
Naturally, I also grew very curious to see the results of Malik’s efforts. I picked up Dragon’s Trail, and this post is the resultant book review.
What to expect
An epic fantasy story, wherein a modern-day protagonist is taken from Earth to another world to act as a champion. We are with him as he learns about the politics, culture, and conflicts of the world. Occasional shifts to other point-of-views are interspersed for good dramatic effect.
While the technology is roughly migration-era medieval, society is different than Earth’s (more modern attitudes to women’s roles). Magic is there in the background, and isn’t of the spell-slinging variety. These, taken with the protagonist’s modern vernacular, lead to a classic epic fantasy combined with interesting twists.
What I liked
The realistic depiction of historical arms and armour, as well as fighting techniques. The violence is sudden and extremely gory, with the effects and after-effects of the associated adrenaline rush making it all very realistic.
I liked the details in the world-building, the light-touch of magic, and the occasional in-character humour (the scene buying the horse made me chuckle). It’s interesting to see how someone highly trained with some limited access to modern tools approaches a medieval society, and the resultant mayhem.
The intelligent language and evocative descriptions lead to an immersive and entertaining read. The concise storytelling style leads to a fast paced adventure. Malik strikes an excellent balance.
What to be aware of
There is an almost fanatical obsession with arms and armour, and those subjects are discussed in depth. For someone with martial arts experience and interest like me this is very engaging, but other readers may find this very much a “guy story”. There isn’t a great emotional journey for the protagonist (in fact, at time he can be a jerk), but rather this is a very plot-driven epic story of a hyper-competent swordsman leading war in some unconventional ways.
If you love HEMA and want to see some realistic sword fighting in your epic fantasy, this is very much the book for you. Malik achieved his goal, and this book is just as good as many traditionally published epic fantasies. Though the book is self-contained, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the just-released sequel.
You can find Dragon’s Trail on Amazon.