Title: The Craftsman and the Wizard
Author: Joel Newlon
Publisher: Silver Eel Publishing
Publication date: December 4, 2020
One Sentence Summary: In the Two Rivers, children are stolen from their beds during the new moon, so a master craftsman and a wizard make their way to the village to slay the evil and save the children, but on separate journeys.
The Craftsman and the Wizard offers a solid traditional fantasy with a great deal of heart and soft edges. Told primarily by Dvalinn, the craftsman, and Asmund, the wizard, it felt like two different stories laced together with a common purpose. It was a little frustrating waiting to see when they would meet and when they would finally get around to helping the children. The journey felt entirely too slow, though I do have to admire how neither character turned down a request for help. There are what felt like many side quests, which just made me want to hurry them up and save the children, though that might also just be the mom in me, but it was still interesting to read the craftsman’s journey into Norse mythology and Asmund’s journey into believing in himself.
In the Two Rivers, young children are snatched from their beds in the middle of the night during each new moon. Begun when a stone was removed from a field, the village has descended into fear with many fleeing and others hoping and praying their child wouldn’t be next. One desperate father, one who had been told tales of the craftsmen of the Great Hall by his father, travels to seek help.
The craftsman, a dwarf named Dvalinn, is the last of his brothers left in the Great Hall. He finds the father’s request worthy and embarks on a quest to gather the materials he requires to create the weapon he will need to defeat the evil stealing the children. With magical items and a special boar on his side, his quest takes him from a small village of women who seek freedom from prejudice to halls of the dead of Norse mythology. His is an enchanted journey of sacrifice and magic.
Elsewhere, wizard apprentice Asmund lacks all confidence in both his broken, twisted body and his seemingly lackluster powers, but his dreams call him to the Two Rivers to save the children and vanquish the evil. After a period of self-doubt, he embarks on his quest with a protector, but things quickly turn against him and he is beset with problems and comes across people who require his aid, though he does pick up a lovely traveling companion named Kolga. His is a quest full of magic and the mundane.
Upon reading the description for The Craftsman and the Wizard, I expected a delightfully traditional fantasy quest with a motley group of characters. Instead, this is actually a journey of two characters, one a male dwarf and one a male wizard who eventually acquires a female traveling companion. They neither know of each other nor travel together, which made me feel like I was reading two different stories headed in the same direction instead of a single cohesive story.
The story is told mostly from the craftman’s and Asmund’s perspectives, until Kolga joins Asmund and gets to tell part of the story from hers. It was a little confusing when her perspective was brought in as I had gotten used to getting the story from the craftsman and the wizard, and I still feel a little ambiguous about the addition of a third perspective halfway through when the initial two served well enough. As a matter of fact, I felt like I missed out on some of Asmund’s magical growth because Kolga was unable to speak to those particulars. I also didn’t really feel like she added much to the overall story besides being a love interest, and even then it felt far too rushed to be authentic.
There are a lot of similarities between the craftsman and Asmund, as well as some differences that helped set them apart. I loved how they both worked hard to help those in need that they came across, though it made me feel impatient, like they were taking up so much of their time helping others when there are these kids and their parents who really, really need their help. It made me frustrated that the story dragged on with so many side quests and there was no real tension about needing to be away to deal with the actual problem in the story. Still, I have to applaud them, at least a little, for not leaving people behind in a lurch. But what I did really like was the way they initially approached the shared quest. The craftsman very nobly agreed to do whatever necessary, as though it were his solemn duty and he would do anything to help the children. The wizard came off as whiny and weak, but was guilted into the quest, so I had to admire his journey and how he grew into himself and gained confidence. What bothered me the most, though, was that the craftsman being called almost exclusively “the craftsman” made him feel distant to me. It was hard to not see him as much beyond something of a dwarf demigod. He felt less like a being and more like a thing, so it was difficult to get to know him. Asmund, though, the reader gets to know in spades.
It was interesting to view this world through such two different eyes. The craftsman brought in the mythology as he encountered beings from Norse mythology and even journeyed into and through Hel. Much of his journey wasn’t based in the mundane world, making it really interesting and adding a nice layer of magic and myth. At the same time, I’m not quite sure how it actually fit into the human world this book crafted. There isn’t much god worship and not much reference to anything mythological besides the dark being stealing the children. So it ended up feeling like two worlds and two stories smashed together. As interesting as I found the mythology and how in-depth this book went into it, I think I enjoyed Asmund’s journey more. It was entirely human as he encountered a crazy king and simple farmers. I really enjoyed reading his evolution as he traveled across the land, even if the landscape failed to change much over his approximate month-long journey. It did feel more traditionally fantasy, which made it easier for me to actually focus on all of Asmund’s good deeds and his growth as a person and wizard. I think my favorite part of Asmund’s character was that he has some physical disabilities that have affected all areas of his life so he must travel by horse and cart. It made the journey feel slower, but I also appreciated getting to see more of the landscape. And I liked that he wasn’t perfect and fully able-bodied.
The magic in The Craftsman and the Wizard was probably my favorite part and, again, I must discuss it in terms of both the craftsman and the wizard. The craftsman felt very much like a demigod. He’s a master craftsman with a deep knowledge of all things Norse mythology. He has the power to create great weapons. The only thing that makes sense to me is that he must have some strong magical or god blood in him. His characterization makes me think god, but his treatment in Hel makes me think mortal. Either way, the things he’s capable of is incredible. Similarly, Asmund has some very impressive magic. But it felt very at odds at what he said about his powers at the beginning, though I can see how his physical disabilities made him doubt himself. His magic is incredible and powerful and must be a wonder to behold. But it does also ask for a price. I really enjoyed the push and pull he felt between having to use his magic and having to deal with a price that was sometimes higher than he wanted to pay. I couldn’t quite tell if his power grew over the course of the novel or if he was just short changing himself, but I really loved it when he used his magic because he felt quite different from the Asmund the reader first meets.
Overall, The Craftsman and the Wizard offers a solid traditional fantasy. It has a great deal of heart and softened edges. It showcases the good in people. The two main characters (mostly) never shied from helping. But it did feel a little plodding and I felt like I was reading two different stories that were spliced together. It was a little baffling to me and I couldn’t help wondering when the two would meet up and go on the quest together. There was also a decided lack of tension as both the craftsman and the wizard took a great deal of time to get to the Two Rivers and only one seemed to prepare at all for how to save the children. As a reader, I often became frustrated with them, but also had to grudgingly applaud their good souls.
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Thank you to Joel Newlon for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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