With a title like Return of the Wizard King (2020), one can’t help but think of the third (or fourth, I guess?) chapter The Lord of the Rings saga and the image of Aragorn approaching the Black Gate of Mordor. The truth, however, is that the first chapter in The Wizard King Trilogy is similar in as many ways to LOTR as it is different. As a result, those looking for something new, yet familiar in the fantasy genre will find plenty to enjoy.
This tale eschews the typical trope of a band of merry-men embarking on a mythic quest to save so-and-so from what’s-his-butt. Instead, we are introduced gradually to each of our arguably unheroic heroes, whose paths eventually cross due to the machinations of our mostly unseen title character. This group is made up of “reluctant mercenaries,” which include the tragic gladiator Dugan, mysterious elven hunter Alara, and the gruff, honor-bound dwarf Vinder. Brought together by a blind seer, they are recruited to obtain an ancient McGuffin, while unbeknownst to them, they are being manipulated into helping the titular Wizard King return to Tralodren following several hundred years of exile.
The core concept has more in common with the formation of the Avengers, with each character getting their time in the spotlight before they are manipulated by Loki into becoming something more. Unlike Marvel’s premier superhero team, the characters are propelled by their own agendas rather than the greater good, and their dynamic is reminiscent of the characters in RA Salvatore’s Drizzt series of novels, though with much more ambiguous morals. The character of Dugan is particularly interesting, as he is so hell-bent on revenge against his long-time captors that he’s willing to do anything to escape and exact his vengeance. Despite this, the character retains an intense nobility that forces the reader to care about his own journey, even to what may inevitably be a tragic end. The other characters don’t fare quite as well in terms of development but are nonetheless interesting and provide great support to Dugan’s narrative.
The true star of the story, however, is the world of Tralodren, a realm that is both mystical and cosmic. Writer Chad Corrie drops you into the world without warning, and without even a map – just kidding! This is a fantasy novel, so of course there’s a map! Corrie has clearly spent a great deal of time and effort in creating this universe, and he wastes little time on exposition or even basic explanations of who or what certain things are. The result may be frustrating at times but much of the unknown is revealed in dialogue and character motivations. Corrie uses his diverse cast and their history to guide the reader through the narrative, winding through dark paths and brutal action scenes. It’s a risky approach but one that effectively makes the reader feel like a participant in the action, rather than just a spectator.
Much like Middle-Earth, Tralodren is a world full of wonder, “rich in history, faith, and … adventure,” complete with elves, goblins, and even a dragon or two. Not to create more comparisons to LOTR, but a few of that saga’s lesser points do find their way here as well. Tralodren is very dense, and the world-building does take time. The first act, in particular, is a pretty slow burn, requiring some patience on the part of the reader to truly get into the proceedings. Additionally, there were a number of terms and descriptions that required a quick Google search to know what they referred to, mostly in terms of garments or gear. On the plus side, I definitely felt more educated after I was finished. In spite of this, the book does eventually find a good pace and tone, which Corrie maintains throughout. He does a fine job of balancing the drama and intense violence with humor that never feels out of place and manages to inject some personality into even some of the lesser characters. Rest assured, by the final page, you’ll be looking forward to Book Two.
To learn more about Tralodren and to preorder your own copy of Return of the Wizard King, head over to chadcorrie.com. You can also learn more about the Wizard King Trilogy in our interview with Mr. Corrie here.