Publisher: Orbit (Paperback – 26 July 2016)
Series: The Dragon Lords – Book One
Length: 517 pages
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Prepare for all manner of craziness and exceedingly entertaining fun as Jon Hollins presents an amazing book about heists and dragons with Fool’s Gold.
A few months ago, whilst perusing my local book fair, I happened upon a copy of Fool’s Gold by Jon Hollins (a pseudonym for fantasy author Jonathan Wood), which really grabbed my attention. The first book in Hollins’ The Dragon Lords trilogy, Fool’s Gold had a fantastic plot synopsis which involved heists and dragons. I was very intrigued by this cool book, which sounded so very fun, so naturally I made sure to grab it. As a result, it was nice and handy when I was in the mood for a fun fantasy book, and boy was I entertained by this cool read.
In the fantasy land of Avarra, there are many different magical creatures and beings who infest the world and bring all manner of chaos with them. However, no creature is as dangerous, arrogant, and domineering as the dragons, especially members of the destructive Consortium who have taken over the isolated nation of Kondorra and rule it as overlords. Employing a private army, the dragons impose massive taxes on the lands surrounding their lairs, driving the people into poverty and forcing many to lose everything.
It is only a matter of time before something gives, and when Willett Fallows loses his farm to greedy dragon who controls his village, he snaps and becomes a fugitive. On the run, Will finds himself in the most unusual of situations after a chance meeting with four unlikely wanderers in a nearby cave, including a skilled warrior woman, a murderous lizard man, a dragon obsessed academic with explosive magical powers, and his village’s local insane drunkard. Together the five new companions come up with an ambitious plan to steal all the gold from the local dragon lord and make their escape.
However, when their heist unsurprisingly goes wrong the friends find themselves in a surprising position as the nation’s apparent saviours. Suddenly worshipped by a massive following, the companions must find a way to escape both the deadly retribution coming their way and their own insane devotees. But no matter how hard they try, all their plans seem to backfire until they find themselves in the middle of a deadly religious war against the dragons. Can they pull off one more con to destroy the Consortium, or is everyone about to end up dead in a field of fire?
Fool’s Gold is an exceedingly fun and very entertaining read that I was able to finish off in a few days, especially once I got caught up in its exciting and fast-paced narrative. Hollins sets everything up very quickly, with the new fantasy world introduced, the dragon’s control of Kondorra established, and all five of the main characters brought together. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the extremely coincidental meeting that saw all the protagonists meet up in the first few chapters, the story evolves at a much more appropriate pace from there, with the characters quickly planning their theft of the local dragon’s hoard. I was a little surprised at how fast the first heist came about, as I figured it would be a long-term plan that would unfold much later in the book. However, featuring this heist early on really works, as it sets up the rest of the story extremely well while also showcasing early just how crazy and over-the-top this book is going to be. The chaotic results of the first heist see the protagonists incorrectly declared religious saviours destined to bring down the dragons. Suddenly leading a ragtag army, the protagonists are forced to engage in several more attempted heists and plots against other dragons and their minions. While these plans often backfire in very funny ways, the protagonists keep failing upwards and must keep the con going while dealing with a multitude of problems, including deranged followers, immense responsibility, and deep personal issues. This all leads up to the final confrontation with the dragon Consortium, with the characters unleashing their most ambitious plan yet. Watching this final plan come together is pretty damn awesome, and the insane battles and crazy results that follow were so damn epic. I ended up really loving this compelling and very fun story, which Hollins leaves open for some intriguing sequels in the future.
Fool’s Gold is an incredibly fast-paced novel with a great writing style that makes it very easy to power through. The author has a brilliant and wicked secret of humour that infects his writing, and I found myself chuckling the entire way through, not just because of the jokes but because of the insane scenarios that resulted. I was also deeply impressed with how well Hollins brought together several genres to create a compelling and hilarious read. The book initially appears to be a classic fantasy read, as the author quickly and effectively sets up an intriguing new fantasy world at the start of the book, which contains several classic fantasy creatures and elements that are likely going to get expanded on in the sequels. However, it soon becomes apparent that this isn’t going to be a typical fantasy book, especially as the very modern sense of humour and language that Hollins employs gives it a whole new tint. I often enjoy when authors feature contemporary language and attitudes in fantasy novels, and I felt that Hollins uses it to great effect in Fool’s Gold, giving the book a distinctive tone. The author further brings in the brilliant heist elements to the book, which I deeply enjoyed thanks to all the fantastic plans and cons. It proved to be extremely fun to see all these elaborate and weird heists get planned out and executed in a fantasy universe, and it combines extremely well with the humorous tone and fantasy elements of the book. I deeply enjoyed how this captivating story came together, and I can’t wait to see how the next books in the series pan out.
I also really liked the cool characters featured in Fool’s Gold, especially as Hollins came up with a very eclectic and damaged group of central figures. The book primarily revolves around five protagonists, each of whom have multiple chapters told from their perspective and who unite as a team very early in the book. This includes Willett Fallows, the former farmer who turns to heist planning after the dragon’s greed takes everything from him. There is also the fantastic pair of Lette and Balur, a female adventurer looking to settle down and her lizard man companion who loves all forms of violence and is determined to fight and kill the biggest opponents he can find, in this case dragons. There is also Quirk, a former mage turned academic who arrives in Kondorra to study the dragons and finds herself dragged into the group’s plans so she can get a closer look at the dragons and their lairs. Finally, there is Firkin, a local drunk whose failure years ago to defeat the dragons drove him mad and who finds new life during the new adventures.
All five characters are pretty crazy in their own way, and I think they made for quite an intriguing and amusing focus for the narrative, especially all the interesting growth Hollins makes use of. Will’s evolution from a farmer to a master strategist was very well written and I appreciated the compelling examination of how the power he started to wield was potentially corrupting him, especially when he holds the lives of so many in his hands. The inevitable romance between Will and Lette was handled well throughout the book and it came across as a natural and well-developed relationship. Balur, the battle-loving lizard man was easily one of the most entertaining characters in the novel, and I loved seeing his mad rages and various attempts to kill the dragons they encounter, especially as it results in an incredibly funny and hilariously brutal final fight at the end of the book. I was also quite impressed that Hollins was able to keep up Balur’s unique style of speech for much of the story. Firkin’s rise from unpredictable drunk to unpredictable drunken religious mouthpiece and rabblerouser was exceedingly funny in places, especially as you are never quite sure whether he is actually insane or just messing with everyone. I did find his continued crazy speech a bit too much at times, although the occasional hints at his deeper intelligence and sanity made up for that. However, the best character work was probably reserved for Quirk as Hollins really dives back into her history as a child soldier/mage who was gently rehabilitated and taken into the academic lifestyle. Quirk finds herself reverting to her old destructive magical ways throughout the course of the adventure and she must figure out who she truly wants to be. I had a great time with all the cool characters in this book, although I do wish that the greedy and arrogant dragons might have gotten a little more development. Overall, I would say that the characters were some of the best parts of Fool’s Gold and look forward to seeing more of them in the future.
Unsurprisingly, I had a pretty wonderful time with Fool’s Gold and it ended up being as thrilling and compelling as I hoped it would be. Jon Hollins wrote a wildly entertaining and very funny fantasy heist narrative for Fool’s Gold, which came equipped with some great fantasy elements and a bunch of excellent characters. I really enjoyed Fool’s Gold and I will have to try to grab the next two books in the Dragon Lords trilogy, especially when I’m in the mood for some crazy, over-the-top adventure and excitement.