The title and cover of Five Man Midget Death Squad makes for an easy purchase decision (midgets! death squad! Gatling guns and a skull!), but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Nicholas Forrestal’s 2014 novel isn’t about midgets wielding machine guns as I initially expected, but a warrior tribe in the British Isles on a parallel Earth as told from a historian in the year 2201. The “midgets” of the title are a famed band of dwarves of the Tolkien tradition, who we meet along with goblins, giants, and humans. If you like the noble tribe of Orcs in Warcraft, you’ll find Forrestal’s fantasy world races familiar.
Beginning with the legend of Gith of the Tundri clan we meet one-by-one those influential leaders of the dwarves recounted to the best of the chronicler’s ability from stories passed down through the generations–this is not so much the “historical truth” as a tribute to carry on the noble dwarf culture in good Old World oral tradition. Via separate vignettes about the history of the Tundri we learn about their culture, religion, and politics, Gith, the goblin race, the next great dwarven leader Kaiden, the giant Balor the Evil Eye and the deal he made with Cora the dwarf to protect all dwarves that resulted in the formation of the famed Death Squad, and lastly the contributions of Ethne and Caleb, and the story of M and the Leper Kahn.
Death Squad is full of deep world building–characters here make appearances throughout Forrestal’s Chronicles of M series of novels–and his prose is similar to the writing of real-life ancient chroniclers. Early chapters read like a recollection of Herodotus, and later chapters like Suetonius’s The Twelve Caesars, Plutarch’s Lives, and primary writings of Augustus in his Res Gestae and Julius Caesar in his The Gallic War. Forrestal has developed plenty of classic fantasyscapes here to expand into future novels.