Here Be Dragons by David MacPherson

A mid-life crisis, a castle gardener, an unfaithful steed, a dastardly hero, a merciless king, and a dragon that needs saving. With heroes this bad who needs villains… 

When Orus graduated from the Cromalot School for Heroes he was ready for a life of glory and adventure. But after being seduced by his first damsel in distress, he quickly learns the heroing life doesn’t bring in the steady income required to raise a family.

Twenty years later, with his son all grown up and his waistband all grown out, a favour for a friend gives Orus one last shot at the life he always wanted. But any old hero can slay a dragon, this old hero has to save one.

Perfect for fans of authors such as Sir Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, Here Be Dragons is an action packed, comic fantasy full of unexpected heroes, dastardly villains, chases, escapes, questionable employment practises, ill-fitting trousers and an ill-tempered donkey (as if there was any other kind).


With the fourth annual Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off around the corner, and with the list of the 300 participating books recently released, I decided to check them out to see if anything caught my eye.

Now, I can’t stress how difficult it is to write a blurb that stands out among 299 other books. It doesn’t matter how epic you make it sound, because when everyone is epic… well… no-one is.

Yet when I read the blurb for Here Be Dragons, I found that my imagination was well and truly captured. It radiated personality and humor, and seemed so radically different from everything else on offer. I was already in the middle of another book, but I figured I’d read some of the sample just to see if it was any good…

That was yesterday. Today, I’ve already finished.

Here Be Dragons is a wonderful little gem of a book. It’s clever, it’s funny, and it’s just so heart-breakingly wholesome.

A dashing young hero named Orus rescues a beautiful damsel in distress from the clutches of an evil sorcerer. Upon talking to said damsel (Mavis), Orus is shocked to discover that this kidnapping lark is a bit of a regular occurrence…

‘Does this happen to you a lot then?’

‘Oh yes, every month or so. Once word gets out that there’s a virgin going about—well it’s like moths to a flame. We’re always in demand. This is my third kidnapping this year. It’s all a bit of a nuisance really.’

Of course, if Mavis wasn’t a virgin, then she wouldn’t have so much trouble. She’s quick to suggest this to Orus, and since everyone knows that you can’t get pregnant on your first time, our hero does his duty.

Twenty years later, and Orus is an overweight, balding middle-aged bloke with a steady marriage and a kid that has flown the nest. He hasn’t had a bad life, but it isn’t exactly the sort of life that he’d had in mind for himself. As much as he loves his family, he’s never really had the chance to be the hero that he’d always wanted to be.

But when the last dragon in the world is hunted by glory-hungry ‘heroes’, someone needs to save it.

Here Be Dragons tells the story of how Orus finally gets his chance to be a hero, and details his struggles as he tries to take it. It’s straight-up comedic fantasy, and so it’s told with a lot of humour, and a fair amount of trope inversion.

Of course, humour being subjective, these jokes might not land for everyone. Speaking from a personal perspective though, I found that the author’s sense of humour was right up my alley. There’s clever wordplay, some absurd metaphors, and a supremely intelligent talking donkey that no-one ever listens to.

It’s almost a cliché to compare comic fantasy books to Pratchett, but that comparison does have some slight merit here. MacPherson doesn’t have the same righteous anger behind his words—which are much more jovial in tone—but he writes in a similar (distinctly British) style.

There’s nothing un-funnier than talking about a joke, and so rather than going on about it, I’m going to drop in a short (very slightly spoilery) excerpt for you to read or gloss over as you please.

‘And how many monks did you say there were?’

‘Thirty-three, including me,’ said Ambrose. ‘We’ll be there to help you.’

Well, that was a start, thought Orus. Everyone knows that mystic monks hiding in mountain fortresses tended to be trained in all manner of mystical martial arts. ‘And are you good at fighting?’ he asked.

‘Fighting? Oh, no. We won’t actually be fighting with you. Our Order is bound by a vow of non-violence. That’s why we need you.’

‘So, when you say ‘help’…?’

‘We’ll pray for you.’

I feel like I’ve been going through a bit of a purple patch recently, and as a result my recent reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. I’d intended to be more critical (though not necessarily negative) with this review… but honestly I’m just loathe to criticise this book.

Here Be Dragons isn’t perfect. There are a few rough patches dotted throughout, a number of clumsily-worded passages, and I can only recall two female characters off the top of my head. But despite these flaws, I found it to be a really good read. For me, the awkwardness was balanced out by the moments of brilliance.

It’s a fairly simple book. There is some depth to the characters and the themes, but anyone expecting a complex exploration of human thoughts and behavior might be a little disappointed. And yet what the characters lack in complexity, they make up for in likability and relatability. I really wanted Orus to succeed, and I was rooting for him (and all the friends he makes) throughout the entirety of the novel.

This came at just the right time for me. After a bunch of particularly dark and violent reads, and after a pretty rough week, Here Be Dragons brought me the laughs that I needed. I haven’t laughed so much since Nicholas Eames’ Kings of the Wyld, and in a way, this felt like a simpler, family-friendly version of that book.

Here Be Dragons is wholesome. It’s clever. It’s funny. And despite its flaws and its simplicity, it’s one of my favourite finds of the year so far.

If you need a book to make you smile, then I highly suggest that you pick it up.

5 comments

  1. And this one is now on my never ending TBR. I didn’t really need new titles to add but… (but who am I kidding? I always need more fantastic books to read! Having the time to read all of them would be great too, but we can’t have all, I suppose).
    Thanks for the great review!

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  2. […] Here Be Dragons by David MacPherson (ebook) — This was just the perfect book at the perfect time for me. A hilarious comedic fantasy about a middle-aged would-be hero who goes off searching for adventure. I adored it. Hoping that it does well in this year’s SPFBO, though it’s in a tough group! […]

    Like

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