To claim your work to be a “epic fantasy masterpiece” is quite bold, considering the wealth of fantasy novels that can equally lay claim to that title - and yet Ryo Mizuno's “Record of Lodoss war” series of novels can not only lay claim to just that, but can also be credited as being the pioneer of not only the fantasy genre in Japanese anime and manga, but also being one of the first series to be published in the - then new - light novel format, paving the way for other series from classics such as Slayers and Berserk all the way to the modern day with titles such as Konosuba and Grimgar Of Fantasy And Ash - even Log horizon and Sword Art Online use tropes that can be traced back to it.
And yet its hard to believe that this book, that would later go on to become a seven volume series, (with a 2 volume prequel series) a console and PC MMO game, multiple OVA and anime spin-offs (with the latest, Legend of Grancrest War, due to air in January) all began... with a game of Dungeons and Dragons.
Starting off life as a series of “replays” (transcripts of game sessions that are rewritten into novel form) in the Japanese magazine Comptiq, Record of Lodoss war chronicles the adventures of Parn, a young adventurer keen to redeem his fathers reputation, and his companions the elf Deedlit, the priest and friend of Parn Etoh, the wizard Slayn, Woodchuck the thief and Ghim the dwarf (again, note the D&D connection) as they adventure across Lodoss, initially to save a kidnapped priestess, but which quickly turns into a race against time to stop the machinations of the ancient witch Karla as she plots to drive the island into a war that could undo all of civilisation.
The artwork, what little there is, while serviceable, pales in comparison quality-wise with most modern art. Also fans of the more visceral and darker fantasy published today by the likes of George R.R. Martin or Glen Cook would probably find the series' lighter, high-fantasy writing to not be up to par - this is not helped by the fact that, due to the limited page count afforded by the light novel genre, at times the story will either skip over or ignore events or characters entirely for the sake of story length, and making me wonder whether the writer was trying to fit the equivalent of a trilogy into just under 200 pages. And yet the very faults with the pacing also meant that I didn't feel bogged down with endless descriptions or numerous (or oft times superfluous) characters that I had to keep reminding myself of to make sense of the story, and while the book does leave some plot threads dangling for a potential sequel, nonetheless it does manage to end with most of its main plot-lines resolved.
Finally the volume is wrapped up with a postscript from Ryo Mizuno, talking about the origin of the series, and a collection of colour illustrations, comprising covers from both the original light novels and some from various products released to tie in with the series' release.
So, with all this in consideration, does this book deserve the title of “epic fantasy masterpiece”? Well, yes and no.
Compared to more modern works, I would be the first to agree that this book does come off as old-fashioned with many fantasy tropes that would be considered overused today. However, just as judging Edgar Rice-Boroughs John Carter series or Robert E Howard's Conan against more recent works would be unfair to them due to both the age of the works and the times they were written, faulting Lodoss War for its stereotypes doesn't do justice to a series that, as mentioned earlier, paved the way for the many modern fantasy anime and manga series we see today that use those same tropes.
Quite simply without Lodoss war the fantasy genre of anime and manga as we know it would not have existed, and therefore is deserving of respect.