Mabel the Mafioso Dwarf by Sherry Peters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I also read and reviewed the previous book in this series (via Netgalley, as with this one), and found it enjoyable enough that I picked up the second as well. While I thought it had some flaws, they're not fatal, and would be relatively simple to correct.
Once again, we have a freshened-up sword-and-sorcery world, charmingly rendered. It's surprising how a couple of elements from the USA in the 1930s (movies and gangsters) perk up a potentially paint-by-numbers D&D-style fantasy world, making the familiar tropes into background furniture rather than subjecting us to grinding through another dull iteration of them.
Mabel is a delightful heroine, authentically brave in a quiet and determined way. There isn't much outright action, and the story starts with a lot of preliminary throat-clearing and doesn't show us any conflict to speak of for a long time (one of the flaws I mentioned), but once the conflict does start I found it kept my interest. I did feel that Mabel perhaps triumphed a little too thoroughly, given the overall situation, but otherwise her success was satisfying.
The writing had some basic (albeit common) issues. Most notable were commas before the main verb (and in other unnecessary places), and commas missing before terms of address, but to me the biggest problem was the long parade of simple declarative sentences. While the narrator was intended to be unsophisticated and naive, the writing style, to me, overdid that aspect. There were also a few other commonly-made errors: homonyms (backwards/backward, definitively/definitely, compliment/complement, reigns/reins, breech/breach), "a millennia" instead of "a millennium", "may" used where it should have been "might", and missing past perfect tense from time to time. All of these are errors that I see a lot of authors making, but there were quite a few of them, more than I felt there should have been in a book that credits an editor, from an author who has graduated from the Seton Hill MFA program and from Clarion.
One thing I thought was mostly done well was the recap, reminding readers of what had gone on in the first book. Since I read that book a while ago, and have read a lot of others since, I needed the refresher. However, there were two things missing that I noticed: firstly, we're never explicitly reminded of what exactly the problem was with Mabel's mother that caused her exile, and secondly, there are several mentions of dwarfs braiding (or not braiding) their beards before we're reminded of what that signifies in their culture: that they're looking (or not looking) for a relationship.
Mabel's own relationships with family and friends were well explored, I thought, and made sense. Character and character relationships are definite strengths of the author, and with a bit more cutting to the chase and some revision on sentence structure and other writing basics, this would be an excellent book. As it is, it's entertaining and enjoyable.
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