Tinkermage is the sequel to the 2014 Rough Magic and the second of the GnomeSaga books by Kenny Soward. The premise of the series is it follows the adventures of the most overlooked race in fantasy as they attempt to deal with an extra-planar invasion by a dimension-spanning warlord.
The books are a throwback to the Nineties and early millennial fiction by TSR then Wizards of the Coast. Back when I was a teenager, I purchased hundreds (no exaggeration) of cheap paperback novels containing stories based around settings or rules. The series is more tied-together by plot than most of these and doesn't take place in any canonical world but are close enough they wouldn't be out-of-place with a boxed set for the setting.
For me, it was welcome nostalgia.
But it feels very D&D.
In the previous book, Rough Magic, the sibling pair of Nikselpik and Niksabella Nur discovered the plight of the enslaved elemental Stonekin. Niksabella has been chosen by the mysterious Prophetess to help them while Nikselpik has decided to protect his sister against all dangers. Nikselpik's vow to protect his sister is made difficult by the fact he's given up "bugging" (insects whose bite produces an effect similar to heroin), which has left him a shadow of his former self. Worse, the mysterious Baron who rules over a twenty-worlds has decided to make the gnomes world his next target.
Kenny Soward avoids several cliches would would have made the book less enjoyable like no one believing in an ultraworld (what other dimensions are called) invasions. Instead, the warning is taken seriously and they send out messengers to other lands so they can be roused against the threat.
Much of the book is devoted to character development like Nikselpik being forced to choose between his necromancy and a future as a priest. Given he's only considering the latter because he's attracted to a gnomestress (female gnome) priest, I'm not surprised it's much of a choice. As a big fan of dark powers belonging to good people, I hope Nik continues to study the Dark Arts as they are in dire need of representation in D&D-related fiction.
We also get the discovery Niksabella is possessed of powers which go far and beyond those of being a genius inventor. I'm rather iffy on this development as I think she's just fine as the sort of person who creates amazing inventions. Her relationship with the Prophetess, who has taken up semi-permanent residence in her head, is the most interesting part of the book. I can't recall a villainess I've hated quite as much as the Prophetess and I hope we get to see Niksabella destroy her soon.
A new major character is introduced this volume with the airship captain Stena. Stena is a likable enough character and I've been predisposed to liking anything related to airships since Final Fantasy I. Unfortunately, Stena doesn't have much relationship to the other two gnomish protagonists so it was hard to get invested in her storyline.
Indeed, the major flaw of the book is it's very well-written but not a lot happens. It's mostly getting everyone up to speed on the invasion, who is doing what, and why. There's some good action sequences with one of the few scenes in fantasy where orcs are genuinely threatening (and against steampunk gnomes no less). I was hoping we'd be getting to fighting the Baron directly by Book 3# so the slower pace is somewhat annoying. I'm in no mood for the series to end but I hope the next volume will have some more developments.
In conclusion, Tinkermage is a worthy sequel to Rough Magic. I like the characters, the unique world, the steampunk 19th century gnomes living in a 12th century fantasy world, and the series' trademark humor. I'm even a fan of the silly words which Kenny Soward throws in to make the English language (or, I suppose, "Common tongue") more gnomish.