Review: Dragma’s Keep by Vance Pumphrey

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I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Dragma’s Keep
by Vance Pumphrey

Leaping Wizard Press, 2015

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The verdict: Lighthearted adventure that seeks an audience willing to join the quest.

Much to its credit, Dragma’s Keep stays true to its genre and knows its intended audience. Fans of Dungeons & Dragons will slide right along with the backstory and lore. Each chapter reads like a new level of an RPG. Pumphrey brings heavy action and enjoyable banter, making the novel’s tone more lighthearted than dramatic despite the extended adventure sequences. The plot stays singularly focused on the party’s mission, which is all it needs to do for readers who know what they’re getting into, but those looking for some twists and detours in the narrative might find the opening acts a bit repetitive. It’s a long wait for a truly disruptive wrinkle in the storyline, but Pumphrey eventually deviates from the expected and brings a satisfying conclusion.

Valdaar’s Fist, an ancient weapon of untold power, emerges after 2000 years. In search of it, a five-person party—including sorcerer Sordaak, thief Savinhand, sword-swinging muscle man Thrinndor, dwarf Vorgath, and healer Cyrillis—embarks on a quest following a lore reference to the lost site of Dragma’s Keep. The group must work together to decipher an ancient map, battle orcs, minotaurs, and other monstrous creatures, and unlock hidden passages to plunge deeper into a network of caverns toward the fabled treasure. Yet each member of the posse has his or her own priorities, and their secrets from each other may prove more dangerous than the secrets of Dragma’s Keep.

“Bah,” repeated the caster, even more vehemently.
“Legend has it,” the paladin went on as if he had not been interrupted, “that one day he will return to rule the land that is rightfully his. But first the path must be prepared for him. His disciples must join together and set up a kingdom worthy of his rule. His sword—Valdaar’s Fist—must be found and the power contained within must be released.”

Pumphrey’s language is a bit hard to pin down as he throws in some modernisms that don’t feel native to the fantasy world. In certain moments it almost feels like a parody of the usual archetypes, especially when orcs topple over with video-game quantity and ease. Each of the five main characters also has a good half a dozen monikers that rotate every line of dialogue, and while that might sound like an odd thing to critique, it does take longer than it should to sort out who’s who in the early chapters. Once I had an image of each person, though, I did enjoy seeing the limitations on individual powers. The party’s needed collaboration and slow trust in each other provide depth to the story, even as they reach the different checkpoints in their journey relatively easily. All in all, Dragma’s Keep is an entertaining thrill ride that serves up a full-course meal of lighthearted escapades. Recommended for epic fantasy lovers who are serious about adventure, especially if they can still share a good laugh while swinging a battle-ax.

Jimmy Leonard is the author of The Evangelist in Hell.
Be sure to check out Vance Pumphrey’s writing, visit his website, or see more book reviews on this site.

If you’ve written a book you’d like me to consider for a review, find out more information and follow the submission guidelines here.

Review: The Einstein Prophecy by Robert Masello

Disclosure: This review contains Amazon affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

The Einstein Prophecy
by Robert Masello

47North, 2015

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The verdict: A predictable page-turner producing standard action fare, best suited for long flights or a fun vacation read.

From its back cover, The Einstein Prophecy sounded right up my alley: a WWII-era thriller involving an ancient curse and the world’s greatest scientific minds. If the title’s supposed to evoke some Da Vinci Code connection, however, Masello’s novel falls woefully short of its ambitions, but I’m not ready to completely discard it. Masello’s background as a journalist and previous novelist shows in his ability to technically piece together a story, and it does succeed as a quick, mindless thrill ride. Readers looking for complex characters and depth are less likely to enjoy the story as those just hoping for a lighthearted adventure, but the premise at least is enough to engage the imagination. I call it less profound revelation and more mindless entertainment.

On a top priority mission for the Office of Strategic Services, art-professor-turned-soldier Lucas Athan uncovers a stolen sarcophagus cloaked in secrecy and danger. When the US government calls to collect the object, the brilliant and beautiful Egyptian archaeologist Simone Rashid follows Lucas back to Princeton with a mysterious agenda of her own. Meanwhile at the university, the famed Professor Albert Einstein is in the middle of his own secretive work on the Manhattan Project, and as Professor Athan investigates the artifact, their storylines soon converge. The US military prioritizes uncovering the mysteries of the ossuary for reasons not fully explained, but its power soon becomes apparent. Strange and deadly happenings follow anyone too close to the project, and if that weren’t enough, the Nazis want the ossuary back to harness it as a weapon for evil. Set against the historical background of WWII, Masello unveils a fast-paced adventure back on American home soil.

“Even if one fights on the side of angels,” the professor continued, “it can feel as if one is doing the Devil’s work. For years now, every day, it is all bombs and bullets, guns and planes, tanks and cannons, death and more death…One must wonder, where will it all end?”

The many threads don’t always tie together, and some of the historical context, especially with Einstein’s war effort, feels forcefully inserted. Otherwise, though, the story unfolds as standard thriller fare true to genre. Inexplicably well-resourced characters with high-reaching government connections collaborate on a top-secret project to save the world. At times I enjoyed the fast pace and cross-town chase scenes, but the heroes lack the depth and gravitas to inject any personal conflict into the narrative. Lucas is barely affected by his horrific war injury while romantic sparks fly all-too-predictably with his female counterpart. The ossuary’s backstory provides the most intrigue, but the novel’s deeper themes about the nature of good and evil tumble through the air without sticking the landing. Einstein’s character ends up as more of a gimmick than necessary plot piece, and the mystery unfolds linearly with few surprises. It’s not exactly like readers are unsure how the Manhattan Project will turn out. Still, Masello knows the ingredients for an adventure story. Nazis, ancient evil, expendable side characters, and a beautiful woman join together for a novel that’s more joy ride than careful exploration. For readers who want easy thrills and don’t mind a serious suspension of disbelief, The Einstein Prophecy can still pass the time.

Jimmy Leonard is the author of The Evangelist in Hell.
Be sure to check out Robert Masello’s writing or see more book reviews on this site.

If you’ve written a book you’d like me to consider for a review, find out more information and follow the submission guidelines here.