Robert Kroese’s Disenchanted falls under the well-known maxim “you get what you pay for”. This book was originally published as a Kindle serial in six sections and recently came up on their daily deals page. The amazon description invoked The Princess Bride, which I assure you, this book wishes it were that one…wishful thinking much? In the end, it’s basically left me feeling
…wait for it…
That’s not to say it’s awful or anything. It really isn’t that bad. But it has issues, which I’ll get to in a minute.
So basically, Disenchanted is the story of Boric the Implacable, a king with a reputation built on the slaying of an ogre who was really killed with the help of a few townspeople, but nonetheless, Boric did have a hand in it and he’s a royal, so he buys off his helpers and takes the credit. He also had the help of an enchanted sword, which turns out to be crucial in building his reputation. The sword is given to him by a stranger named Brand in a tavern, and it serves him well over his lifetime. Until he gets himself assassinated. Then he can’t get rid of the thing, literally. It’s stuck to his hand, and he cannot ascend to the Hall of Avandoor with a weapon. Turns out the sword is cursed, and Boric is thus stuck in the limbo of the walking dead until he can break the enchantment, which is no easy task. Brand is marshaling dead kings behind him in an attempt to unite the six Kingdoms of Dis and claim absolute rule. Turns out Boric isn’t the only one who’s implacable—Brand set him up by giving him the sword 20 years earlier, and Brand wants Boric to join his assemblage of walking dead kings.
Several things came to mind while I was reading. First, Kroese borrows quite a bit from Gulliver’s Travels, intentional or not. There’s a land called Bromdingdon. There are the threfelings, people who are one third the size of an average human (and seem much more like Hobbits than Liliputians). The episodes take Boric to various kingdoms, much as Gulliver’s travels did. This isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, but the satire implicit in Swift’s novel is lacking here. Second, this book is no Princess Bride. It had many of the same traits—it’s a gentle spoof of the genre, it’s told in the same type of casual voice and employs humor to hold the reader, it makes use of epic fantasy tropes while making fun of them, and for good measure there’s even a seven-fingered man. But it does not succeed on the same level because it’s a bit too ham-fisted in its execution—the guy’s trying way too hard here, and it shows. Third, there’s nothing wrong with the story itself—reading the plot blurb lured me in, and I’m not exactly a huge fan of epic fantasy (among other things, it tends to be littered with elves, which skeeve me out)—but Boric is very two-dimensional and the way the book is structured doesn’t help that.
Kroese alternates between Boric’s current predicament (sword stuck to hand, no Hall of Avandoor, must break enchantment) and the saga of his killing of the ogre and his taking over his father’s kingdom. So we get Boric-that-was and Boric-as-he-is character-wise, and there’s no merging of the two over the 20 year time gap. It really is a problem, because the younger, alive Boric is far more brash and arrogant than the dead and suffering Boric, who comes across as much more humble. The clash is glaring. And I suspect this is partially the fault of the book being originally released as a serial as well—there’s a lack of cohesiveness that bugged me.
To be sure, there are some amusing bits—the narrative voice is chatty and casual, even a bit snarky. There are also these sheep—they grow the warmest wool in the kingdom. Alas, they also grow the itchiest wool in the kingdom. It’s so itchy even the sheep are itchy—so itchy they try to commit suicide by running in front of arrows. The threfelings are Hobbit rip-offs, but I like their idea of an entertaining evening: strong drink and amateur puppet shows.
I suspect that people who really like epic fantasy and don’t mind episodic stories will like this a lot more than I did, and they’d probably get more of the jokes that I’m sure I missed. And I didn’t hate it by any means. But it did get old after a while, and I found myself not caring whether Boric ever gets his sword disenchanted or not. When I hit that point, I was just over halfway through the book and realized I had other things I wanted to read.