“Cursed gems, snake gods, lost temples, dark jungles and volcanoes. It could serve as a laundry list of things Ruby wanted nothing to do with. Yet now she’s on her way, in search of a missing friend and with only a journal of cryptic clues and a notorious band of dungeoneering dwarves to guide her.”
In terms of being something a little different, The Dungeoneers has a fair bit going for it. In this third entry (like Discworld, Russell has designed his series to be read individually and in any order), we have a female scholar in her 60s as our protagonist, helped through her first adventure in the wilds by a huge band of Dwarf specialists (and a Gnome, but don’t tell him that). Ruby has suffered some trauma – on learning of the possible death of her dear friend and scribe/explorer Quill, she is hunted through her campus by strange, cat like creatures who will stop at nothing to steal the diary that Quill left to her. Driven by hope, she must venture into the jungle, uncovering the secrets of the journal to discover the fate of her friend.
It’s a great start to what promises to be a fun adventure. Ruby is an introvert who is not inclined to go gallivanting around in the jungle – she is joined by the Dungeoneers and a guide who knows very little about their surroundings (his reasoning being that he went to the woods once, and one set of trees is pretty much the same as any other). The Dwarves, with the exception of a few standouts, did run together for me a fair bit, but this improved as the story went on. Mungo, a Gnome who wears an elaborate fake beard and believes himself to be a Dwarf was especially enjoyable, along with Gorax – a Conan type narcissist in a loincloth who believes himself to be the greatest warrior ever to have lived. Who is more deluded, I couldn’t say.
The setting is imaginative – lots of dense jungle, mysterious temples, traps, and unique cultures along the way. The plot itself is largely straightforward, with the odd twist – clues are revealed in a timely fashion due to the setup of the journal, and they are promptly deciphered by the crew. It’s a bit like Disney’s Jungle Book meets Indiana Jones, with a bit of World of Warcraft thrown in. There’s a definite feel of video-gameyness in the approach to the journal/clues, but in a way that I found to be organic and pleasing, if a little lacking in depth. I would be unsurprised to discover that Russell is a fan of old-school MMOs like Everquest, or RPGs such as Morrowind. This is an author who likes a good dungeon crawl, but without straying into the dry statistics that are often a hallmark of LitRPG.
The humor, alas, was not my personal cup of tea. It was pleasant and light-hearted, and on this point I’d certainly urge people to try it for themselves – humor is obviously a subjective thing and what tickles some might leave others cold. Despite this I found the dialogue to be well thought out, and the descriptive prose conjured up images of the setting nicely. In some ways I felt that (like Neil Gaiman’s Stardust) this was a book that might actually work better as a movie or TV series. The chemistry between the characters is really what kept things moving – Ruby’s worn and slightly cranky older protagonist melded very well with the relentlessly cheerful Dwarves, and absolutely everyone’s disdain for Gorax’s antics meant that they always had something in common.
Overall, The Lost Temple of Ssis’sythyss was a sunny escapade that I’d recommend to anyone who wants something to lift their mood. If you’re suffering from grimdark fatigue or you just fancy a fun adventure that won’t require too much of you, this may be worth a look. Despite it not quite clicking for me, I think it’s solidly written and many readers will find it charming.
Score: 7.3/10 (4 Stars)
Bingo Squares 2018
- Reviewed on r/Fantasy
- Protagonist is a Writer, Artist or Musician
- Fewer than 2500 GR Ratings
- Features the Fae