Book Review: ‘Game of Gnomes: The Necrognomicon’ by M. J. Northwood

Author: M. J. Northwood

Originally published by Critical Tales in May 2020

Review by Miriam Atkinson

Game of Gnomes: The Necrognomicon is the first in a planned series of books by author M. J. Northwood. The story follows three gnomes; the reluctant yet intelligent Gassy, the fiercely determined Borty, and the unpredictable wildcard Turdlet as they travel to and compete in the Crimicompetition in order to win the Necrognomicon. The Crimicompetition is the ultimate test for any eager and enterprising criminals.

This novel is one of the more unusual fantasy stories I have come across, for two reasons. The first reason is the narration. Northwood manages to tell a story that uses both a traditional third person narrator (i.e Gassy did this, Borty said that) and a not often seen second person narrator (i.e you see Turdlet do this). Most third person narratives feature an all-knowing, all-powerful narrator whose job is to simply tell the story (such as the Harry Potter series or George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire). By using both third and second person narration Northwood has created a narrator that is self-aware, who enjoys interacting with the reader, and who is essentially another character in the story. (A perfect example of a self-aware narrator can be found in The Book Thief by Markus Zusak). Throughout The Necrognomicon the narrators pauses the story and speaks directly to the reader, perhaps asking: ‘You may be wondering why…’ The narrator then proceeds to explain a fact about the world or tell the reader a short anecdote before resuming the story. The effect of this is that, as a reader, it often feels like you and the narrator are inside the story following the characters from a distance as the narrator answers your questions about what you are both seeing. It is a technique not often used and Northwood impressed me by created this engaging, informal narrator that kept me entertained throughout the story.

The second reason this story is unusual is because of the world building details Northwood and his narrator chose to reveal. In typical high fantasy novels the author periodically reveals pieces of information that helps the reader to build up a picture of the larger world the characters inhabit. This can range from descriptions of far away cities and countries to a piece of ancient history – there really is no limit. It is partially why many high fantasy novels include a map of their fictional lands at the very beginning of the book – the reader is been given clues to a larger world than the one they are reading about. Think of it as seeing an image of what a completed jigsaw will look like. By contrast Northwood only gives his readers occasional pieces of the jigsaw without letting them see what the final picture will be. While we learn next to nothing about the larger world the gnomes inhabit we are treated to in-depth looks at tiny pieces that make up this fantasy world, such as the entire mating and procreation cycle of a hurgle creature or the elaborate history of the city of Under-arraz (sigh). While I do wish we’d learnt more about the larger world the story is set in, I consider this a positive as it means the author has done enough to interest me and leave me wanting more. Hopefully we are treated to more details in future instalments.

If I had to give The Necrognomicon one criticism it would be the novel’s over use of toilet humour. It is one of the reasons why the book is aimed at adults and not children. Admittedly this criticism is based on personal preference – it simply isn’t my kind of humour. That being said I’m sure that many readers will be greatly entertained by the unashamedly large amount of references the story includes.

While on the subject of The Necrognomicon’s target audience it is worth mentioning that this novel does include some graphically violent and gory scenes. This is not a criticism of the book; in fact once I had gotten over my surprise of the first violent scene I quite enjoyed the expectation subversion of the inclusion of such gory scenes in what up until that point had been a light-hearted story. Although I believe these scenes are intended to be darkly comedic due to the over-the-top ways in which some characters die, I do feel it important to mention for those people who feel uncomfortable reading scenes about physical violence.

The Necrognomicon is an intriguing new fantasy novel that is quick-paced with an entertaining narrative style and features characters with big personalities. The Game of Gnomes series has a lot of potential and I’m interested to see what Northwood has planned. 

An Advanced Reader Copy of ‘Game of Gnomes: The Necrognomicon’ and the images used in this review were kindly provided by the publishing company Critical Tales. ‘The Necrognomicon’ is their first book. For more information check out Critical Tales’ website.

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