Imagine you sit down for a movie night and really want to watch an excellent Epic Fantasy Movie. You look through your movie collection and are presented with two options. You can either watch Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings, or Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride. The first is a nearly perfect film from a technical standpoint, full of brilliantly directed moments and “Big Ideas”. The second, while inferior from a technical standpoint is arguably just as fun and, I personally feel, a more entertaining movie. I don’t know about you, but I often prefer the second option.
It’s a Wonderful Death by self-proclaimed Z-List author Derek Beebe is definitely in vein of films like The Princess Bride. Simultaneously epic and hilarious, it tells a fast paced story with a ton of heart. Rather than getting muddled in overly descriptive prose and paragraphs of philosophising, it focuses on a handful of characters and really makes you fall in love with them. Nevertheless, Beebe isn’t afraid to ramp up the action to 11 and deliver massive fantasy set-pieces.
What I Loved
As I mentioned above, I loved the structure of this story. We begin the book following Beryl Truesword, a noble knight who has abandoned her post after a tragic loss, and set off on an epic adventure, one she fully intends to be her last. Her quest is quickly complicated when she encounters Elmeki, a self-serving thief. Elmeki is a member of a race called the Hidden People, meaning he is diminutive in stature and constantly veiled in shadow. Elmeki is understandably concerned to learn that Beryl intends to depose Doomsayer, the despotic ruler of the Hidden People, who can foresee the deaths of other people, fearing the instability caused by this coup. The story takes several twists and turns before it reaches its dramatic finale, and while these twists were unexpected they always felt organic and never forced.
As a character Beryl is very interesting. She sees little value in continuing her life, and is fully resigned to dying in the completion of her quest. Tragically, it is only after she learns the inevitability of her death that she finds new purpose in life, and the reader is left hoping, beyond hope that she will somehow escape her fate. She also has to face some very difficult choices and realities throughout the book that make her journey particularly enjoyable.
Next we come to Elmeki. I love reading stories that have loveable, sarcastic rogues. Elmeki is so enjoyable to read because he is so willing to see the value of others, but never in himself. He repeatedly dismisses himself as “No Good” yet as the story progresses we see his strength as a character, and ultimately I feel he was the real hero of this book, in much the same way Samwise Gamgee is the unsung hero of Lord of The Rings. Without Elmeki’s help Beryl would never accomplish her goals, and it takes the entire novel for him to finally accept his value to the world. His sarcasm and seeming self-confidence hide a real sense of insecurity that makes him so lovable.
Lastly, the humour in this book was a lot of fun. Even though the book deals with some very dark subject matter at times, the tone was kept light by clever dialogue and moments of real levity. It never quite becomes a straight up “comedy” or “farce” but instead deftly toes the line, and in the end is an enjoyable Epic Fantasy story.
What I Didn’t Love
To be clear before I write this section, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Though it isn’t perfectly polished there is a lot of fun and potential in this book. Still there are some flaws worth noting. Firstly, there are a handful of flashback chapters that, while interesting and key to the plot, aren’t framed particularly deftly. The transition to them is especially obtuse; the character is riding her horse and “Thinks back to the past.” Everything that follows the transition is good, but I wish there had been a more organic way to integrate the flashbacks into the plot.
Secondly, it is worth noting that this book is part of a Shared Universe, being a Fortannis novel, a series started by Author Mike A. Ventrella. The vast majority of this book is stand-alone, and I, having not read the previous works, had no trouble following along. However, there is a group of characters who carry over from the other books, and while they are entertaining and enjoyable to read, there is little explanation of who they are within the context of this book. As a result I found it difficult to engage with those characters, though I imagine that would not be the case had I read the previous books.
The climax of this book was fun and exciting, but ended far too quickly for my tastes. About three quarters of the way through the novel a large threat is identified and the characters have to spring into action to prevent disaster. The buildup to the final conflict, while interesting, felt like it was over double the length of the battle itself, which served to undercut the tension of the moment.
Finally, aspects of the final pages of the book felt lacking to me. Plot wise the ending of the book is clearly telegraphed only a few pages in, so my complaints are not with the ending itself, but rather the emotional impact, or lack thereof, it had on me. I can’t go into details without giving spoilers, but I was really expecting to be torn up emotionally by the ending of this book, and sadly, I just wasn’t. This is my biggest critique of the book, but it does almost nothing to invalidate the book as a whole. As the Knight’s Radiant of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive say, “Journey before Destination.”
Final Thoughts Below