East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

A Handful of Men

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9781504047128_p0_v1_s192x300Last night I invested 2.99 bucks in an ebook bundle on Amazon. I was celebrating the sale of my pitch for my new monster novel, and felt like splurging.
So I bought myself the complete A Handful of Men by Dave Duncan. Four novels, over 1500 pages.
Born in 1933, Scottish-born Canadian author Duncan started publishing in the mid’80s, a fact that I have also found inspiring and reassuring – he started “old”, but he’s been able to line up over fifty novels, and collect a few awards.
It can be done.
Also, he is a geologist – just like me.
It can be done by geologists.

I discovered Duncan in the early 90s, when I got the four books in the series known as A Man of His Word.
My fantasy-savvy friends pointed out that Duncan was too cheerful and fairy-tale-ish, that his novels had a strong romantic element, and were not the sort that a proper fantasy reader should read. Also, one of them pointed out that Duncan got his fantasy races “wrong”.


To this day, A Man of His Word is one of my favorite series of fantasy novels. It’s light-hearted and romantic, and it’s also cleverly plotted and after a slow start it starts running at a breakneck pace. It’s very much in the same league with Goldman’s The Princess Bride – and who would complain of such a thing?
0627db3b117bf2c2b4387019b339ae50--alternative-art-sci-fi-artYes, it does play fast and loose with fantasy races – meaning that the various elves, fauns, goblins, imps and djins that populate the world of Pandemia are basically human ethnicities. But that’s part of the fun.
And while telling the story of a one-man rescue party trying to save a clever but vane princess from the grasp of evil, Duncan’s book shows a good worldbuilding, develops an original magic system, and even delivers an unexpected punch or two to the reader.
Not bad, for “light fantasy”.

The original four-volume series was followed by another quartet – A Handful of Men, that I got me yesterday.
51YmT6VjGHL._SX301_BO1,204,203,200_It took me only twenty-odd years.
In the meantime I did read other things by Duncan – his series about the King’s Blades is another excellent diversion, once again built on a clever magic system and set in a world that’s as simple as nicely built.
The same goes for Duncan’s standalone novels – as I said, the man started late, but has been writing a lot.

I’ve been told that grimdark is the new flavor of the month, but frankly I don’t care.
I expect a few rough months this summer, and I need a light read. Dave Duncan fits the bill perfectly.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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