Reviewed by: Brandon Nolta, Pacific Book Review
Life can be tough when you’re a teenager, and for 14-year-old Sagandran Sacks, the going is definitely not easy. His parents are separated, his school days are full of bullying and hardship, and one of the nastiest of the bullies has purchased a summer home just up the hill from his grandfather Melwin, thus spoiling the summer vacation he looked forward to all year. But, not all is lost; visiting Melwin has lost none of its charm, and when his grandfather entrusts him with a secret, things start to look up for Sagandran. Then, Melwin disappears, and while searching for him, Sagandran’s real adventure begins…
Set in the same universe as The Tides of Avarice, but with completely different characters (although one scurrilous knave makes a token appearance), John Dahlgren takes a different tack with Sagaria, opting to stick to a more traditional fantasy structure and its associated tropes. While this adherence to traditional tropes renders the overall shape of the narrative into a more traditional form than the first novel had, Dahlgren brings the same playful wit and confident command of plot and dialogue to bear on Sagandran’s adventures. The scope of Sagaria is more extensive than its predecessor, giving readers more of a chance to sink into Dahlgren’s world-building efforts, yet despite the greater emphasis on the world of Sagaria, the characters don’t get the short end of the stick. No character is one-dimensional, and even the characters with little to no shading are represented realistically, avoiding the melodramatic dialogue and motivations common to many fantasy works.
Although the narrative, by necessity, is not obviously humorous, Dahlgren’s sense of humor is very much in evidence, through wordplay and absurdity (such as the intervention of a malevolent lime Jell-O pudding in the heroes’ affairs). Fortunately, much of the comedy arises through character interaction, making the jokes and witticisms flow logically and organically from the characters, rather than being imposed from outside the story. Even better for discerning readers, Dahlgren expertly weaves in scenes of genuine pathos and depth, again arising from the characters and their choices throughout the story. This balancing act extends to the tone, which Dahlgren masterfully manages to pitch at a teen/adult level without resorting to content which younger children – or their parents – might blanch at reading.
While fans of Dahlgren’s previous novel in the Sagaria universe will get more out of the story, fans of fantasy novels or simply well-written genre fiction of any kind will find something to like with this book. Dahlgren has launched what seems likely to be an auspicious career, and if his subsequent work is as assured and talented, he won’t lack for readers.