I've placed Bob The Wizard into the top three of my favourite books for 2023. It is going to be hard to beat.
As a writer, you learn from other writers. It's given me pause for thought to decide what makes this such a good story. I think it all comes down to this.
The best stories have energy. It comes from the interaction between characterisation and world building. One ignites the other and builds and builds. The climax forms the explosion, the release of that combustive energy.
Bob the Wizard has that energy. Bob is utterly engaging. He is amusing, emotionally complex and driven. These qualities attract others like him. Over the course of the story, a merry band of adventurers form. We lose some of them. This drama sustains the energy, it introduces tension with the constant levels of threat. These deaths are never over-dramatised but they contribute to the narrative's sustainability. Each character, without exception, is readily distinguished. Important when the cast list is so long. Characters like Kelael whose relationship with Bob changes over time in such subtle ways we accept their bond. Likewise Osivia, whose humour brings a light delicacy to moments of drama and darkness. Bernard, who delivers a lot of the exposition but in ways that avoid info dumping. Instead, he brings more questions to keep us curious, engaged.
Then there is the world building. More accurately, universe building. Its scale grabbed me once its implications began to sink in. For this reason, managing the drip, drip, drip of exposition was crucial. Clever too, that each drop impacted on Bob.
For this is a universe which defies any other I've encountered in recent fantasy. There's a touch of Piers Anthony and Terry Brooks here. Portals to other dimensions exist in lots of stories but in this one, Matthew Prindle defines the 'astraverse' - a magical highway that connects these portals. Beyond that, a variety of people with differing roles who operate within this universe. There is so much material here it's obvious the story only scratches the surface. More books will follow. Fair enough. But establishing a universe on such a scale while telling a complex story - that requires real talent!
My point about momentum reaches this conclusion. Like a whirlwind or tornado, the story's energy must continue to increase. Bob's travels introduces him to people, creatures and communities which help build this momentum. Always with one thing in mind - finding a way to wreak vengeance on Galvidon for murdering his family. The story starts off as a vengeance drama but rapidly turns into something bigger than that. Even though, for so many characters, their own vengeance is never far away.
Finally, there is the mystical factor that increases the effectiveness of world building. Access to spirits that are not the kind that are worshipped in traditional ways. This mysticism benefits our protagonist and his buddies. But it informs some of the societies we encounter too. I enjoyed this element especially. It brought depth and maturity to the story, made it thought provoking. It provides an ecological message to the book which needed making.
All in all, I strongly recommend this book. It is part of the Self Publishing Fantasy Blog Off competition this year. I hope it features as a finalist.