Review Secret Project #2: The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England

In March 2022, author Brandon Sanderson announced that he had secretly written five additional books. He decided to offer four of those Secret Projects in a non-traditional way, namely through self-publishing funded by the most successful Kickstarter campaign ever.

Since Brandon Sanderson is one of my favourite fantasy authors, I decided to also support this campaign and get my hands on the deluxe editions of these books.
But before the physical copies reach their new owners, a digital copy is sent to campaign backers every first day of a new quarter (January 1 – April 1 – July 1 – October 1), so that everyone can discover the stories at the same time!

For the previous quarter, I refer you to these previous posts:

But now it’s time for the second project of April!

The title is quite a mouthful, but immediately evoked comparisons with Douglas Adams and his The Hitchhicker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This book therefore promised a crazy adventure full of magic and time travel, and I was really curious what Sanderson would do with it!

Brandon Sanderson – The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England ★★★

Genre: Fantasy/Sci-Fi

A man awakes in a clearing in what appears to be medieval England with no memory of who he is, where he came from, or why he is there. Chased by a group from his own time, his sole hope for survival lies in regaining his missing memories, making allies among the locals, and perhaps even trusting in their superstitious boasts. His only help from the “real world” should have been a guidebook entitled The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England, except his copy exploded during transit. The few fragments he managed to save provide clues to his situation, but can he figure them out in time to survive?

First off, my first impression of the official cover disappointed me a bit.
It’s not that different from the temporary cover and it somehow looks unfinished. Hopefully it looks a little less amateurish in real life.
Admittedly, we were extremely spoiled with the cover of the previous secret project, so maybe that’s why this one disappointed me a bit? Anyway, I’ll keep my overall impression of the look of the book for when I have my physical copy. Judging by the e-book, I can already say that the illustrations are again of very high quality.

But what about the story?
Well, it was indeed as fun, silly and chuckle-inducing as the title had me anticipating, with an impressive bit of worldbuilding.

In terms of storyline, it felt a bit too short, especially to give everything that was introduced an appropriate and impactful conclusion. I also had a hard time feeling emotionally connected with the characters. So these aspects did cause certain revelations and events to fall a bit flat for me.

The writing style shows very clearly how free Sanderson felt to do what he wanted. It felt immensely uninhibited and entertaining. It was clear that he had a great time writing it.
This is also noticeable by the high amount of humor and jokes that are incorporated in this book. Admittedly, the humor is a bit pubescent at times, but I generally liked it. That humor in particular really reminded me of the absurdity and silliness of The Hitchhicker’s Guide.

But what was again extraordinary in this book is – how could it be otherwise with Sanderson – the world building.
Sanderson is once again doing what he does best. Even better, he doesn’t just create one new world, but two! And both were unique and fascinating and I wouldn’t mind at all to read more stories in both new universes.

I liked the way we got to know one of those worlds, namely by alternating chapters in our regular storyline with chapters from the titular handbook (yes, a lot of Hitchhicker’s Guide influences). This was a very effective way to learn about that world in a relatively short time, without having it feel like an info dump. The cartoonish and comic-book-esque illustrations that accompanied those chapters also contributed a great deal to the digestibility, although it wasn’t always clear to me how they fit the text.

So yes, while I’m not going to classify The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England as a new favorite, I certainly enjoyed reading it. It’s just a very smooth, unique and fun story and sometimes that’s perfectly sufficient.