THE DEFENDERS OF DOLPHEIM is a novel about the art of war. And when it comes to warfare, it does not disappoint. There are visceral battle scenes that will gladden the heart of any fan of military fiction. There are also well-researched passages describing the ways warriors of old readied for battle and waged a war that should intrigue anyone with even a passing knowledge of the ancient military history.
However, when it comes to story and its protagonists, THE DEFENDERS OF DOLPHEIM falters. Bruce D. Nickel attempts – and fails – to insert some drama into the novel. There’s some jostling for place among the various Germanic tribes as they prepare for war, but it boils down to nothing. There’s even a clumsily inserted love story involving a token female character.
Ostensibly, the reader is supposed to root for the warriors defending their homeland. But for the most part, they stay either indistinguishable or unlikable. Even while they fight to protect their own homes, the reader never really gets feeling Germanic tribesmen care about anything worthwhile except to plan a war, execute a battle plan and die in combat. If it weren’t for the Romans, these characters would probably just murder each other into extinction.
As for the protagonists, Hanoot Knutson veers between a drunken buffoon and a savage, undefeatable monster. Meanwhile, Ulrich Blackhand is almost absurdly over-competent as the village blacksmith, coming up with all kinds of clever ways to defeat Roman legions, ways that somehow never occurred to all the other peoples Romans previously conquered.
While battles in THE DEFENDERS OF DOLPHEIM often feel satisfyingly grim, gritty and bloody, the way characters think about war is detached and bloodless:
The situation was grim at best; they were badly outnumbered and although they might make do with the food supplies they had, the exertion of fighting and fortunes of war could deplete those rapidly. In addition, they needed raw material for weapons—notably those designed by Ulrich—and to repair and replace those damaged in battle. It would be a few more days until the most northerly villages arrived. They would bring up the numbers by a large margin but Germania was starting at a deficit with the loss of Soderberg.
This is supposedly the way Jarl Teiwazson, illiterate chieftain of a barbaric tribe from two millennia ago, ponders the survival of his people. His thoughts come off as dry as an academic lecture about ancient history.
And yet, there’s undoubtedly an audience for THE DEFENDERS OF DOLPHEIM. As mentioned before, military history buffs, as well as the fans of military fiction, will find much to enjoy in Bruce D. Nickel’s novel. They will be even more delighted to learn this is only the first book in Nickel’s planned SAGA OF EAGLES AND WOLVES. To them, we say: enjoy!
In THE DEFENDERS OF DOLPHEIM, Bruce D. Nickel offers his readers blood, toil, and sweat, but not much else. While an engrossing read for both the fans of military fiction and military history, others will not be as intrigued.
~Danijel Štriga for IndieReader