“A new dawn for Orcs. Something they’ve never had before: a place where they belong. A land to call home. And a royal lineage of their own.”
Pity the orc, misunderstood and maligned. John A. Douglas offers a more sympathetic view of orc-kind in his debut epic fantasy, The Black Crown.
The world of The Black Crown is populated by the traditional set of fantasy races: elves, dwarves, humans, halflings, goblins, and trolls. Oh, and orcs…a cacophonous orchestra of orcs.
The novel opens at the end of the Orc Wars. The orcs have been defeated, slaughtered by the thousands as their city is burned to the ground.
The main protagonist of The Black Crown is Prince Ragoth, a half-orc child of a human queen and an infamous orc warlord. Being a green-skinned half-orc is not helpful for fitting in with one’s peers.
Ragoth knows nothing about his father’s side of the family aside from the degrading textbook descriptions:
“The Orc is feral and beast-like in nature. Its tongue is harshly spoken, broken into simple terms for the Orc is a simple creature. It is prone to fits of rage and thrives in an environment of constant conflict. It lacks the ability to reason. It delights in violence and will attack anything it sees—even its own kind. What semblances of humanity or civilized behavior it displays are a crude imitation of what it witnesses in human, dwarvish, elvish kind.”
The Black Crown is a coming-of-age tale as Ragoth seeks to reconnect with the paternal side of his family and prove his royal birth. Ragoth travels with a party of adventurers including a veteran explorer past her prime, a foulmouthed farm boy, and a kindly elvish friend. The Black Crown is a quest story with a classic Dungeons & Dragons feel. Ragoth’s journey covers themes of self-discovery, found family, and overcoming prejudice, but never in a heavy-handed fashion.
Aside from its 653-page count, there is nothing heavy about this book. There is no need to be intimidated by the size of this chonker: the pages fly by fast with John A. Douglas’s accessible, unpretentious writing style and fun adventure story.
There are also plenty of humorous moments in The Black Crown that brought a smile to my face:
“Even in her disheveled state, she was a woman of striking beauty—for a human.”
Although there are a few dark moments, the overwhelming mood of The Black Crown is one of optimism. Ragoth is such a likeable character: who doesn’t love a misfit hero with a can-do attitude? To me, reading The Black Crown was a welcome palate cleanser between my usual diet of soul-crushing grimdark and horror.
Overall, The Black Crown is a fun and exciting adventure story and a proficient debut from author John A. Douglas. The Black Crown is highly recommended for fans of classic D&D-inspired fantasy and anyone looking for enjoyable escapism.