Nathan’s review of Paladin Unbound by Jeffrey Speight
Sometimes you just want to go on a fantasy adventure, you know?
Paladin Unbound is a Dungeons and Dragons inspired fantasy quest about a band of adventurers trying to stop a great god-like power from returning to the world. If you are looking for a book with that classic fantasy feel, look no further than this book. Within these pages you will find half-orcs, clerics, gods, vampires, magical talking weapons, and more.
The main character of Paladin Unbound is Umhru, a half-orc with a mysterious and magical past that gets explored later in the book. Unfortunately for Umhru, his band of orc warriors meet their demise fairly early in the narrative, leaving Umhru to team up with another questing party, The Barrows Pact, and together they adventure to try and stop an evil group of people from resurrecting a god set on the destruction of the world.
The biggest and best compliment that I can give to this book is that it is fun. Speight populated his adventuring party with some really wonderful characters, each with their own distinct personalities, quirks, and goals. The low page count means that there are definitely still layers to each of these characters left to be revealed, and I hope that Speight can add even more depth to each of them in future volumes. Gromley (the cleric) and Shadow (the Thief) particularly stood out to me as clever and funny characters. Umhru is probably the weak point in this cast of characters; he reminds me a lot of Geralt from The Witcher, strong, stoic, and internally emotional. This doesn’t make him a bad character, but he doesn’t leap off the page like so many of the others do.
Anyone who reads my reviews knows I adore a good villain character, and Paladin Unbound has a good one. We get to dwell in his POV every once in a while, and he is very much the classic villain character. He was sinister and powerful, while being grounded in his own humanity. He nicely rounds out this cast of characters.
My one criticism of the characters is the lack of women in the story. It isn’t that Speight is bad at writing women….it’s just that there are only really two women characters in the entire book (one is a goddess figure and the other one is part of the adventuring party). Your mileage will likely vary based on how important it is to you that women play a big role in the story, but it is very noticeable how male-dominated this book is.
Speight’s prose makes for a fast and immersive reading experience. The writing is smooth and fades into the background as you are transported to Evelium. Speight writes in an “old timey” style that really works for the narrative. One common complaint with fantasy today is that everyone sounds too “modern”, even in worlds inspired by pre-modern settings. Speight evokes a distinct style that feels ancient and different, while still being accessible to the reader. There is one very clunky scene early on in the book that is an awkward backstory/info-dump, but don’t let that dissuade you from continuing. The rest of the book very much evens out and moves along at a nice pace.
If you are a reader who just wants to be swept up in the quest, then you’ll absolutely devour this book. However, if you are looking for something deeper, you may find yourself walking away a bit disappointed. The plot in Paladin Unbound is pretty thin. The over-arching fight against the resurrection of an evil god becomes merely a framing device for the individual adventures rather than really driving the narrative. One of my issues with this book was the sheer number of side quests the characters embarked on. There were so many secondary and tertiary plot threads and antagonists that contributed little or nothing to the overall story, and I got slightly bored of the characters being given unnecessary tasks to complete. I hope that the sequel embraces the larger plot arc a bit more strictly, as Speight has developed a fascinating deeper story here that I would really like to sink my teeth into.
It is clear from reading Paladin Unbound that Speight was adapting one of his own ttrpg adventures. Readers looking for this kind of narrative should definitely pick up a copy, but I personally would have preferred more drastic changes from the tabletop game version of this story and the novel version.
Concluding Thoughts: Fans of Dungeons and Dragons and similar games, or anyone who wants that classic fantasy feeling, will feel right at home with Paladin Unbound. It is a bingeable story populated with a memorable group of adventuring heroes. Readers looking for a more cohesive story absent of side quests or a thematically deeper work might want to avoid this one, but anyone looking for a few hours of fun should check this out.