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THE FRUGAL WIZARD'S HANDBOOK FOR SURVIVING MEDIEVAL ENGLAND BY BRANDON SANDERSON

AVAILABLE IN HARDBACK // REVIEW BY IZZY ASTUTO



Frugal Wizard book cover

Oh, Brandon Sanderson. His name has haunted me for years, so many of my literary friends hopelessly divided in the face of his work. One of my favorite articles of this year is on the exact subject— “Brandon Sanderson Is Your God” by Jason Kehe— dissecting who exactly is Sanderson, and what the deal is with his highly divisive, but nonetheless extremely successful, stories.


Despite all this, I had never actually read one of his books. Then, “The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England” fell into my lap, and I knew I had no other choice but to do a review. The premise is immediately not doing the novel any favors in my book, with our main character, John (Johnny) West, being thrown back in time to medieval England, his memory completely wiped, except of course of everything related to the modern world and technology, outside of his personal life. Here we see a classic isekai trope played out, (isekai being a type of anime or manga where the protagonist is transported to another world and forced to survive) my least favorite type of anime. Already being biased against the genre, this would have to be something truly stellar to garner my favor.


This was not that. It wasn’t horrible, either, I suppose. I just found myself utterly bored while reading, shocked that this was the type of writing that had people buying hundreds of his books. (Because hundreds of them do exist!) The concept alone could be interesting, as Johnny wasn’t just sent here for no reason. Instead, in this world you can buy your own realm to time travel to, to rule over with your knowledge of modern technology. This does not do much to help Johnny’s knowledge of his surroundings, however, as his own copy of the in-world “Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England” exploded as he time traveled into the realm.


With a concept like this, I was expecting Sanderson to make some kind of statement on the type of people who would desire to travel back in time and create a monarchy, perhaps even religion, entirely around themselves. I convinced myself of this when it’s revealed that Johnny had trained to be a cop, and we even later meet others from his past life who work in law enforcement. It would be unfair to say that Sanderson didn’t try to critique these things at all. Johnny’s “friends” from modern day are portrayed as jerks who see Johnny as a good for nothing loser, while Johnny, who supposedly has no desire to be a cop anymore and washed out of the academy, is our underdog hero.


In addition, interspersed between Johnny’s story, the audience is given glimpses of the titular handbook, and in the FAQ section there’s a chapter titled, “What If I’m Still Worried About the Ethics of Essentially Colonizing the British Isles, Influencing the Course of History for an Entire People?” The very short chapter is tongue in cheek, with this corporation ensuring us that “Once you step through that portal, you leave our dimension and enter one where only your conscience matters.” But of course the corporation selling these other dimensions would say this, and readers are left to come to their own conclusions, just like those in the book who buy a time travel pass.


All of this is just so surface level, a shocking phrase to use about a sci-fi/fantasy writer, who is typically more long-winded. This isn’t a detective novel, where it’s typical to have police make up the majority of your cast. This is science fiction, where to put modern day law enforcement into the world takes a deliberate amount of effort. While the world certainly feels fleshed out enough, Sanderson couldn’t seem to conjure up anything to say when it comes to a topic seemingly as cut and dry as colonialism that doesn’t just feel totally hollow.


What the book lacks in critical analysis, it makes up for tenfold in constant references and jokes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t charmed by any of it, and found myself cringing at Johnny’s “wizard-speak” to scare off his Middle-Aged opponents, threatening them with “Californications” and Nintendo. One point in the book’s favor, however, was Johnny’s constant lying. While most of Johnny’s personality is completely grating, the typical pathetic isekai protagonist I despise, towards the end he begins to embrace his duplicitous ways. He proclaims that the thing he is best at is lying, and does so to help his new friends in medieval England defeat their enemies. This quirk adds an extra layer to a character who is otherwise a complete copy and paste from this genre.


I hate to only have bad things to say about a book, so I have to reiterate that the world Sanderson has built has huge potential. The bits of the handbook we get to see are some of my favourite parts, with how much detail is put into how exactly each of these other dimensions operate. While the concept of a multiverse is very much overplayed nowadays, with blockbusters like all of the current Marvel movies and Everything Everywhere All At Once, Sanderson has a very clever way of explaining very succinctly how they each split off. Steve Argyle’s illustrations are also a standout.


Ultimately, the emotion that I felt the most when finally finishing this book would have to be disappointment. I wanted to understand where all his diehard fans are coming from! I wanted desperately to not just be another 2 star review on Goodreads. At the end of the day, though, I think that Sanderson is just not for me.


2 / 5

 

The Frugal Wizard's Handbook for Surviving Medieval England | By Brandon Sanderson | 384 pp. | Gollancz | Hardback £17.00

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