There was no turning back now. He was lost in a forest of worlds connected by, as far as Bob could tell, a magical highway called the Astraverse. He’d find and kill the Gray Man, or he’d die trying.
Where do I even begin telling you about this lovely little gem?
We’ll start with the title. How could I NOT purchase a book with such a simple, yet intriguing title? Bob the Wizard? Come on! Sounds like a children’s book, although the cover definitely indicates otherwise. The blurb sucked me in even more. Check it.
“Bob, a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed, shotgun-wielding ex-garbage man, chases his family’s killer—the gray-skinned Galvidon—through the realms of the mysterious Astraverse. The trail leads him to Hub, a world in turmoil populated by wizards, blue elves, faeries, giants, dragons, and unfortunately, plain old humans. Chained by his addictions and haunted by his past, Bob must find a way through this dark, magical realm and uncover its secrets, or lose all hope of ending Galvidon once and for all. See through the haze of smoke. Glimpse the dragon. Follow Bob across the Astraverse.”
Worth noting. If you’ve never tried writing a blurb, you’ve no idea how challenging they are. But this is a good one. Moving on…
If travelling through the Astraverse sounds a little sci-fi to you, well, you aren’t wrong. There’s a nice little touch of science fiction thrown in. However, Prindle does an excellent job of painting any science fiction topics with broad fantasy strokes.
“Someone from his Earth had once said that any technology, sufficiently advanced, was indistinguishable from magic.”
As with all SFF, suspension of belief is necessary to fully grasp what is happening and how high the stakes really are. And the stakes are much higher for the residents of Hub than Bob’s personal vendetta against Galvidon. Culture wars, unexpected friendships, slavery, self-discovery, greed, altruism, religious fanaticism, all collide in glorious technicolor.
We know Bob is on a mission of vengeance when he arrives via Gatekey to Hub. That much is clear from the get-go. Hot on Galvidon’s trail, he quickly finds himself involved in a skirmish with bandits while hitching a ride with a local to the nearest town. The wagon’s owner, and several of the bandits, are killed in the raid and Bob assumes the wagon’s cargo as his raison d’etre for being in the town in the first place. At the city gates, his sunglasses are questioned. He passes them off as wizard glasses and gifts them to the guards. Things go wildly downhill from here for Bob. He is seized by the city watch, thrown into jail, stripped of his belongings (including his shotgun and Gatekey), and enslaved in an iron ore mine.
While in the mines, he is eventually befriended by the blue-skinned En’harae, or elves, to use the local pejorative. Understandably mistrustful of anyone who resembles their human oppressors, the En’harae are a resilient, gracious people with a rich cultural history. Bob makes in-roads to gaining their trust when he saves their leader, Torael, from being crushed in a mine collapse. He wins them over with his honesty, frank curiosity, attempts to learn their language, and genuine concern for their welfare. Together, Bob and the En’harae plan their escape, the retrieval of Bob’s Gatekey, and Galvidon’s ultimate demise.
Along the way, Bob makes the acquaintance of a real wizard, Bernard, who helps him understand his role in the greater, cosmic scheme of things. Under Bernard’s tutelage, Bob discovers his kinship with the Earth spirit, Erto, and learns to literally move mountains. He is also adopted by a fairy scientist, Osivia, who is fascinated by human behavior and determined to accompany Bob through any adventure. Bernard, Erto, and Osivia are integral players in the En’harae uprising.
Obviously, there’s more to the story than I’m telling but since I’m not a fan of spoilers, that’s all I’ll say here. Bob spends quite a long time on Hub and while the passage of time can be tricky for authors, Prindle does an excellent job navigating this common pitfall. He lingers in the right places and move quickly when the narrative calls for it. It feels like Prindle was inspired by Native American history in his structure and creation of the En’harae. He is respectful without being obsequious or grasping at tropes. Likewise, his treatment of an En’harae ally, the men of the Nine Peaks, leans into Norse legends without treating the Niners like gregarious buffoons.
Prindle allows his characters to grow and learn, to celebrate their victories and grieve their losses. He gives his readers space to savor each emotion before charging into the next fray. Don’t take that to mean Bob the Wizard is a slow moving narrative. The pace is fast when it needs to be, more relaxed when it can afford it. Prindle’s timing is impeccable.
Fortunately, the ending is not only supremely satisfying, but also leaves readers wanting more. Thankfully, it seems another installment of Bob is in the works. I look forward to reading it.
Et tessat sheerat morae.
May the spirits guide our journeys.
Did I mention the glossary and maps? No? Well, now I did.)