As a kid I was absolutely convinced magic was real. I’d spend hours looking for broken branches to craft a perfect wand, tried to make potions out of wild berries, roots, and leaves, and was sure that if I only concentrated harder, I could conquer alchemy. Thankfully, none of my experiments resulted in harming myself or others (which I still believe was a form of magic in itself), but my lack of sorcery skills left me longing for a place where wizards and dragons existed. Being the nerd that I was (and proudly remain), I turned to books. Titles like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien, were just a few that I read over and over.
When I got older, I did try to more fantasy novels, but I found them exhausting. Many seemed to be political thrillers in disguise or spent so much time building a strange world that I was overwhelmed with the details and soon gave up completely. However, I did find The Eyes of the Dragon and The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower Book 1) both by Stephen King, which I adored. My tastes had changed by then too, craving a splattering of blood across the pages instead of the pure wonderment of magic, so I eventually stopped looking for fantasy books all together.
In fact, if you’ve ever peeked at my Review Policy, you’ll notice I specifically state I’m not looking to review fantasy, or any of its subgenres. But there’s part of me that still believes in magic and wants to disappear into fantastic realms, so on occasion I’ll pick up a book that catches my eye. And that part of me was ecstatic to find Once Upon a Treatise by Sheldon Saurs.
This book begins in a candle lit room as wizard Enrandl sends his consciousness out into the ether, hoping to track down a book to give him unlimited powers. Just from the prologue I was absolutely hooked! The description of Enrandl’s chambers was so vivid, I could almost feel the heat of the one hundred burning candles and smell the smoke mixed with perspiration.
Deep inside the mountain range known as The Unforgiving, down shafts and tunnels carved by dwarves, Enrandl can see the book within a heap of treasures guarded by a fierce red dragon. He assembles a team of humans, led by Toran, to aid in his quest to retrieve the object of his desire, and it becomes evident early on that Enrandl sees these people as merely a means to an end.
But before Enrandl and his crew can descend upon the dragon’s keep, two strangers stumble across it. Kellik, a half-elf being on his travels to sell pelts, and Saigel, a minikin raised by dwarves after his own kind were decimated, strike up an unlikely friendship after unknowingly disturbing the beast dwelling in a cave as they seek shelter from a raging storm.
Kellik is drawn to the strange book, which he cannot decipher, and takes it. When Enrandl discovers it is missing, he lashes out, killing all his crew except Toran who escapes using a magic of his own. Realizing he’s been used as a pawn, Toran plans vengeance against the wizard.
What ensues is an epic cat and mouse game, as Toran agrees to help Kellik and Saigel discover the true meaning of the book, while trying to evade Enrandl at every turn.
This heart-racing adventure across strange lands and battles with creatures along the way, kept me glued to every page. One of the aspects I enjoyed most was the pacing of this novel. From the very beginning to the last page there was never a lull in tension. Often, I find fantasy books can get weighed down with character backstories and general histories of the lands, but author Saurs folds in this information with great skill and at exactly the right moments.
Another facet to this novel that caught my attention were the characters themselves. Each player in this quest was fully developed with their own motivations. They felt real and distinct from one another. One of the reasons I don’t read many fantasy novels is because the characters tend to blend together, either with similar backstories or similar sounding names. But Saurs took great care in crafting each person and those details helped build a connection between the reader and the characters.
And on top of all that, the battle scenes were excellent! From our trio of heroes coming up against thugs in the cities, to fights against trolls, goblins, and of course the dragon, there’s a lot of action going on. More than just action for action’s sake too – these sequences were not only obstacles on the heroes’ journey, but also forced the characters to re-evaluate their task, change their plans if needed, and developed stronger bonds between them.
While this book hasn’t converted me to an outright fan of the fantasy genre, I’m so glad I took a chance on reading this book. If you’re craving adventure, mystery, and magic, I highly recommend checking out Once Upon a Treatise by Sheldon Saurs. The author is currently working on a sequel, and I cannot wait to read it.
My Rating 4 Dragons out of 5
If you’d like to listen to the full prologue, it’s available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/1nxQ41npZYk