Deep Sounding by Brandon Carbaugh is a self-published Amazon Kindle novel about dwarves. For various cultural reasons, that doesn’t sound like an endorsement, but most of the usual complaints about self-published Tolkienesque fantasy thankfully don’t apply in this instance. Carbaugh knows how to write, and he also knows how to stand out in an oversaturated genre with interesting and novel twists on an old set of tropes.
The novel is made up of two almost unrelated stories. The first is about Bardan, an old dwarf living in exile on the harsh and unforgiving surface1 above the dwarves' native subterranean dwelling, surviving by virtue of meticulous bookkeeping – he’s lived on the surface for decades by the time the story begins just by ensuring that he doesn’t expend more energy acquiring food than the energy that food provides him.
The second story follows Silva, a young dwarf woman living in the community Bardan was exiled from, as she goes through a period of disillusionment about her mining job and the communist workings of dwarven society. The two stories are fairly different in subject matter and tone, but share the same cartoonish and slightly slapstick humour, though it’s more pronounced in the first.
Each story is an enjoyable read with some fun musings, good jokes2 and intriguing snippets of world-building, but the novel slips up when it tries to combine the two in an attempt to graft a weighty conclusion onto the more aimless of the two stories. While the combination is reasonably clever and possibly poignant if you squint at it right, it’s evidently trying just a bit too hard to be reasonably clever and possibly poignant, and so I came away from it without any real sense of closure.
This isn’t a must-read by any means, but I’d recommend it to anyone interested in giving a decent indie author a try, or who would enjoy reading about a more thorough interpretation of stock fantasy dwarves. The main appeal here is the setting, with the writing coming second – plotting isn’t astounding, but that’s really not the point. Carbaugh is making a world, and it’s a neat place to visit.
The author has written a second book in the same series, which I haven’t read. Based on the first, I’m not clamouring to buy it immediately, but I’ll certainly keep it in mind and would probably grab it in the right mood.
In technical news, I upgraded this website to Ghost 0.5.0 the other night. New features include the ability to have multiple authors on one blog and a default theme that looks even more like Medium. So at the moment the upgrade has been responsible for exactly zero visible changes to the user experience of this site.
There is an element of the post-apocalyptic to the story, but it’s not entirely clear how much of the surface’s purported hostility is due to genuinely harsh conditions and how much to the dwarf viewpoint characters' preference for the underground. I appreciate that kind of ambiguity. ↩︎
Carbaugh’s world takes entirely seriously the notion that dwarf women grow beards. I found that really funny. ↩︎