Review: The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England

Series: Year of Sanderson: #2

What products did one use in Anglo-Saxon England? Beaver snot? A grudging four stars.

Unfortunately, I feel like “a grudging four stars” is about where this book ends up for me. Not bad, but given how much I’ve loved just about everything else Sanderson, it’s a bit lower.

In a few more words:

In a nutshell, we’re in a scifi society where parallel universes have been discovered… and immediately monetized as tourist destinations. Well, technically some are for research, but that’s not really the point.

A neat concept, but I feel like we didn’t get far enough into the details for how something so fantastic actually works–again, given that it’s Sanderson, I expected more. Does time flow differently? Did they just start later? Do these parallel universes expand to the entire ‘universe’? Why aren’t the people in these universes treated as people with rights of their own?

The main (alternate) world that we spend the book inis neat enough though. Medieval England with a few light differences–and one big one, that devolves a bit into spoiler territory.

Characterwise, the main character (Johnny) is kind of annoying. For whatever reason, he randomly feels the need to review things (4 stars)–which never really made sense to me and brought me out of the story each time he did it. It’s even touched on later. I still don’t get it.

I do really like the supporting cast though. Sefawynn? Local wise woman/bard, invokes the idea of magic by boasting about things. Great fun. Yazad? Transplant from this world’s Middle East. Neat philosophical insert. Thokk? Weird old lady–or maybe a bit more? Also fun.

Plotwise, starting the main character with amnesia is certainly a way to feel out the world along with the character, but I feel a book really needs to work harder to pull it off. Frugal wizard didn’t quite, for me. Crooked cops, betrayal, exploiting societies, etc. It’s fine. Nothing special. A bit of a light twist towards the end, which I did enjoy.

Overall, like I said. A grudging four stars. 😄

Notes as I read. Spoilers!

Oh hell. Was I a cosplayer?

le gasp

Nevertheless, my gut said I was a person who trusted his gut.

As one does.

Last time I’d been shot, I’d been back on my feet within the hour.

He just skips right on by that one.

Frugal Wizard Inc.® has obtained a band of the 305th spectrum of category-two medieval-derivative dimensions. That fancy lingo simply means our dimensions are similar to one another, and are two categories removed from Earth itself. Things will be familiar, but not too familiar! We want it to remain exciting, after all.

Fascinating. Marketing speak? How it actually works? Who knows?!

Ladies! And gentlemen who are into that sort of thing! And everyone else who never gets mentioned in declarations like this! Investigate our unique Celtic True Matriarchy™ dimensions for an experience where women wear the pants! (Legal Note: Nobody tends to wear pants in these dimensions.) Face paint lessons included!


“Very different,” I said. “We do not hurt the guilty, but many we lock away for a very long time.”
“I do not mean disrespect,” he said, “but that seems like it would hurt me very much indeed.”

I wonder if lashings or the like rather than jail time would have any different impact on crime rates etc.

The amount I knew about this from seeing one man’s face pretty much confirmed what I was. A mobster, or at best a thief.

… who is weirdly into reviewing things?

Guarantee Three
Neither the people of the British Isles nor mainland Europe will currently be suffering a global pandemic. This guarantee is good for five years from the purchase of your package”

Written during Covid yo.

Also, do they run in real time?

I also didn’t have any local files stored in the nanites or a wetware hard drive. At least I remembered the reason for that. Local, on-body data wasn’t secure enough. Department protocol would have been to keep everything remote.

That’s certainly one way of looking at it.

“I’m serious this time, Sefawynn,” I said. “You think I am a charlatan, a grifter. But I’m not. It’s important that you understand.” I paused for effect. “I am a wizard.”

Oh boy.

“Yes, this knowledge is often attached to the arcane or unseen in the stories—but what is magic but a science not yet discovered?”

That sounds pretty Sanderson.

“Alakazam BIOS discography Philadelphia à la disco,” I said, stopping right in front of the invaders, hands on my hips. “Nitrogen! I.E. polyester Garfunkle’n Garfield!”
Don’t judge me. It sounded like a perfectly mystical and unknowable language to them.

I feel like it would be easier to actually make something up.

As in, the ink started on fire.
I was stunned. What was in that ink?
Oh, hell. Something was very wrong about all of this. I looked again at the handle of the captain’s axe, remembering the sudden way it had fallen to pieces. Remembering the strange, vanishing offerings in the bowls.

So… Magic in this world? That something they sell or an accident?

A highly sought-after specific time period. (The Norman invasion is about to start, for example.) Perfect for historical war gamers!

That’s an idea. So… are these considered ‘real’ people are not? Should they be?

Mythological figures, like Arthur and Robin Hood, are not available. You must choose people who are documented in the historical record.

Wonder if Sanderson will comment one way or the other about Jesus.

Edit: Nope.

Legal Disclaimer: Controlled weapons will be delivered to the dimension by our team via a temporary gateway in international waters. This is to avoid local restrictions on arms sales. As per the Dimensional Arms Act, anyone carrying controlled weapons into a dimension must subject their in-dimension portal to government inspection. Said weapons may not be brought back through the portal into our dimension. Extra fees apply.

So it’s possible to bring things out. That makes it all the more interesting.

What about people?

I was about to complain that his walking would slow us down, but then I remembered how slow our pace had been earlier. Horses were less the thundering creatures of pounding hoofbeats and unparalleled speed found in movies and more like golf carts that ran on a tank of grass and occasionally bit you.


“You also can’t sidestep from one branch to another; you must return to our dimension first, then “sail” down another path.”

Are you sure?

Creepy, yet cool. My wight had style.
Damn. I was accepting it now, wasn’t I?
How could I not? It was either that, or believe I was suffering from hallucinations.

So there’s something stacking stones in this dimension!

Still not sure if I should expect a scientific explanation or magic. Or scientifically explained magic.

That sounds pretty Sanderson.

Thokk winced. “Whoops. Sorry. Thought you’d be a little more sturdy. You know, since aelvs can leap over mountains and turn themselves into steel and all.”

Men… of steel? In a single bound you say?

This can be further extrapolated to Bagsworth’s Law™: Any sufficiently trained modern person can become a god to those from previous eras.

Not quite as elegant.

The only dimension in history that’s ever been discovered to have something resembling magic. The one dimension where Ulric was building a criminal enterprise.

Hah! There is something going on! But what? And why not more common?

“Not easily,” Ryan said. “He’s got a fusion reactor inside that meeting hall. Takes in hydrogen, spits out gold.”

Fusing past iron? Naturally, it won’t happen. It consumes more (eventually significantly more) power than it consumes.

“Then I remembered that my life is a mess,” I said. “Everyone else seems to innately know what they love. When things were going poorly for me in the academy, I started keeping a list of things I liked and didn’t like. I thought if I rated things, it would give me the proper context to compare. I hoped…it would lead me to who I am. What I like.”

There’s something neurodivergent feeling about that. Still weird.

“I know stories of such weapons,” Sefawynn said. “The Black Bear’s sword cannot be wielded by any other man either.”

Is this Black Bear not a native either?

Edit: Never did get an answer for this one.

“Questionably handsome. Brilliantly strange. Inspiring to other rodents who wonder if they can ever pass as human…” She grinned at me. Whatever I’d expected from people in Anglo-Saxon England, it hadn’t been wordplay. She was illiterate and still talked circles around me.”

Cute. Also “rodents”. Tress reference?

“How long?” I asked. “How long were you two cheating on me?”
“From the second week,” Jen admitted, looking away.
Our entire relationship?
“Why?” I said. “Why would you do that? Why would you say yes to me, if you were going to be with him in secret?”

… she was cheating from him the entire time, faked her death, and Ryan new?

Zero stars plot twist…

“Honored One,” Ealstan said to her. “Woden is here, serving our enemies.”
“Yes,” Thokk said. “Earlier, you said he only cared about sacrifice and blood. You are wrong. My brother cares only about who is winning. He always wants to be on the side that is going to be victorious.”

Brother. Huh.

I thought it was Loki, but:

“The goddess Logna?” he asked. “Mother of monsters? Harbinger of the end of the time of gods? Of course. You didn’t?”

Angrboda fits much better. Two books nearly in a row. Fun.

And yet, “(W)oden’s their brother”? Perhaps they’re a mix of the two?