Book Review: The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England by Brandon Sanderson

The second book in the world’s most successful kickstarter is here and it’s a lot of fun!

The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England is maybe exactly what it sounds like, if you think it sounds like a story about someone who finds themselves in Medieval England, possibly without completely comprehension of why or how, and then has to figure that out while they also try to survive said time period and place. It involves dimensional travel, science-fiction technology, magic, and many other fantastical things, and it’s a very fun book.

It’s interspersed with chapters that serve as the handbook part that’s mentioned in the title – written as a sort of owner’s manual with guidelines, do’s and don’t’s, and a general set of rules to follow when you find yourself in – in this case – Medieval England. I’m trying to write about this without spoiling certain aspects of the story, but I’m sure you get the gist.

The book is a wonderful edition to Sanderson’s 4-part mystery Kickstarter books, the first of which was Tress of the Emerald Sea, and I enjoyed the story throughout. I found it a bit slow to start perhaps, but there’s plenty of intrigue and mystery to pull you along, and the story really pays off towards the end. Also, the book is richly decorated, interspersed with sections that features several pages worth of decorations. I’ve only got the ebook version, and I imagine a hardcover or even paperback would be much more magnificent.

I liked the story, I really did, but not as much as Tress of the Emerald Sea, if I was going to compare it to the first of the 4 mystery books. The story is fun and very well-written, but the modern-person-stuck-in-past-setting isn’t one that I find myself wanting to throw myself into head first. It’s not that it didn’t work or wasn’t set up well, that’s just a personal preference for me.

I did find the whole handbook thing a bit jarring though. I felt like it was disconnected from the main plot, or at least happening on a sideline that only served to lengthen the book and didn’t provide much additional information. It was a fun little sidestep, sure, and I can see it filling a bigger role if there are future installments in this series, but in this particular instance it only pulled me out of the story instead of making me more invested.

Also, nearly all the illustrations – with the exception of a few single pieces – appeared to have nothing to do with the story. At first I was very confused. I love illustrations in a book, perhaps especially in a science-fiction/fantasy setting, but I’m used them pertaining to the story. I’m not a very visual guy, so I love seeing images of what the characters are supposed to look like, seeing the setting they’re in and trying to figure out what specific scene I’m looking at. Seeing a bunch of illustrations that seemingly didn’t have anything to do with the plot in the book seemed weird to me, and I have to admit, was a bit of a let down. I realized eventually that most of the illustrations were related instead to the handbook part of the book, and depicted a variety of hypothetical settings instead of the one that takes place in the book. Again, amazing illustrations, but to me, a bit strange.

Sanderson’s second mystery book is a fun science-fiction/fantasy adventure and if you’re into alternate realities, I’m sure you’ll love this one. Personally, I much preferred the first, and I’d love to read more about Tress and her adventures on the spore seas. Looking forward to seeing what the third book is about!

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