I can only imagine the day Jon Hollins (a pseudonym for Jonathan Wood) devised the plot for Fool’s Gold. He might have turned over the final page of some dour tome of epic fantasy and thought: Fuck this noise–I want something fun for a change. He may have googled, “Ocean’s Eleven meets The Hobbit,” figuring some brilliant bastard had already mashed these two worlds into one awesome story because WHY THE HELL WOULDN’T THEY!? And then, upon discovering this inexplicable vacuum in the universe of fantasy literature, he probably decided to write this book before anyone else did.
Because that premise–the idea of a rag-tag band pulling off elaborate heists under the noses (snouts?) of despotic dragon overlords–is frigging amazing.
I’ll admit it took me too many years on this planet to come around to certain things I now love. Coffee, for instance. Classic rock. Hell, I wasted most of my childhood NOT drinking single malt scotch (thanks for that bottle of Macallan 12 on my 7th birthday, Uncle Rob!). Humour in books was, lamentably, another. I bought my first Terry Pratchett book on the day he died, and so learned just a little too late what a devastating loss that was. And certainly, authors like Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch have gotten people used to having a laugh now and then between scenes of epic awesomeness.
Fool’s Gold, however, keeps those laughs going the whole way through. Every character, from the dragon-obsessed scholar who will do anything for a close encounter with one, to the hulking lizard-man whose answer to every question is to swing his hammer until the question itself is reduced to bloody pulp, brings something hilarious to the table. In fact, the aforementioned lizard-man, Balur, has such a unique and amusing manner of speaking that I found myself parroting it in real life (i.e. “I am thinking we are needing to be having some eggs!”).
What’s more, each character is infused with heart as well. Lette, the hard-bitten mercenary, struggles to reconcile the woman she was with the woman she wants to be, while Quirk (a great name for a sorceress, by the way) has a past so surprisingly dark that when she finally unleashes her pent-up rage it was all I could do not to shout, “YOU GET YOURS, GIRL!”
Okay, yeah, fine. I shouted it.
Even Firkin, the seemingly senile madman, is glimpsed via flashback saying some wonderfully poignant stuff as he explains what humankind is asked to accept as part of their subjugation to the Dragon Lords:
Firkin smiled, big and broad, and absent of all mirth. “Little things, Will. Little things. They asked us to live in fear. They asked us to give up everything we held dear whenever they wanted it. They asked us to live in poverty. They asked us to scrape by in the dirt when once we used to walk…maybe not tall, but not stooped either.”
A few other gems I found particularly shiny include the lines: ‘Dathrax dropped like a piece of flaming midnight’ and ‘Fire lanced down, scribbled murder on the battlefield‘. Yeah…Nicky likey.
Where this book really shines (surprise!) are the heists themselves. In the lead-up to each the reader finds themselves thinking, “Okay, yeah, I can see how this plan might work!” and I don’t think it’s spoilery to confess that the plans go to absolute shit–because where’s the fun if they don’t, right? And while it’s amusing to watch just how sideways things go, its even better to watch this hapless crew cope with the fallout.
Most satisfyingly, though, is that Jon saves the best for last. I typically read pretty haphazardly (while walking, or waiting for water to boil, or riding my unicycle during thunderstorms along the edge of shark infested waters) but the last dozen or so chapters of this novel were epic enough to keep me glued to the page, and let me tell you: the dragon-fight that concludes this book shall be the yard stick (or metre, as we Canadians say) by which I measure all future dragon-fights I read or write.
Though the story is wrapped up nicely by the end, there is a trilogy planned, and seeds are sprinkled throughout the first book that will undoubtedly grow some raucously ripe fruit. The second book is called False Idols, which I assume means we’ll learn more about Avarra’s shamelessly sex-crazed deities, whose oft-mentioned exploits make them sound like the gods of ancient Greece turned up to 11.
I get the sense we’ll see more and more humorous takes on fantasy in the years to come, perhaps because the world is dire enough that we need not turn to the written word to find our villains, our globe-threatening jeopardy, our soul-crushing despair. In the meantime, The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold leads the vanguard of books bred to lighten the mood.
“GO GET IT, GIRL!”
Thanks for reading,