ARC Review: Dreadful by Caitlin Rozakis

Today’s review is about DREADFUL by Caitlin Rozakis. A standalone fantasy debut, this story follows the Dread Lord Gavrax try to remember who he is. His lab is on fire, he lost his eyebrows, and he has a kidnapped princess locked up in a cell. But as he learns more about this Gavrax, he’s not quite sure he likes his past self. Cue general mayhem and an upcoming demonic ritual that leave Gav with spare amounts of time to figure out who he is.

Author: Caitlin Rozakis
Series: None
Age Category: Adult
Publisher: Titan Books
Publish Date: May 28, 2024
Print Length: 352

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Official Synopsis

A sharp-witted, debut high fantasy farce featuring killer moat squid, toxic masculinity, evil wizards and a garlic festival – all at once. Perfect for fans of T. Kingfisher, K. J. Parker and Travis Baldree.

It’s bad enough waking up in a half-destroyed evil wizard’s workshop with no eyebrows, no memories, and no idea how long you have before the Dread Lord Whomever shows up to murder you horribly and then turn your skull into a goblet or something.

It’s a lot worse when you realize that Dread Lord Whomever is… you.

Gav isn’t really sure how he ended up with a castle full of goblins, or why he has a princess locked in a cell. All he can do is play along with his own evil plan in hopes of getting his memories back before he gets himself killed.

But as he realizes that nothing – from the incredibly tasteless cloak adorned with flames to the aforementioned princess – is quite what it seems, Gav must face up to all the things the Dread Lord Gavrax has done. And he’ll have to answer the hardest question of all – who does he want to be?

A high fantasy farce featuring killer moat squid, toxic masculinity, an evil wizard convocation, and a garlic festival. All at once. All in all, Dread Lord Gavrax has had better weeks.

My Review

I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.

DREADFUL by Caitlin Rozakis is a light-hearted venture into how memories and outward appearance define oneself. It all starts when one middle-aged man wakes up in his lab, which is now on fire and one big mess. He doesn’t remember who or where he is, much less that he has a princess as a prisoner. Through context clues and careful conversation, he discovers he’s the Dread Lord Gavrax, who has a rather dismal reputation. But without his memories, is he really the Dread Lord? And does he have time for all this introspection when also fielding and upcoming ritual with an even darker wizard?

DREADFUL by Caitlin Rozakis is Despicable Me meets Shrek. Gavrax, or Gav, is the main character who so desires to be bad, but just can’t seem to get it quite right. Naturally a hot head, Gav forces that reaction down because it doesn’t serve his current situation. First he must figure out who he is and what’s going on. Because he apparently kidnapped a princess, there are a number of forgettable hero types (like Prince Charming from Shrek). You know the kind: all good looks and bravado but no skills, smarts, or forethought. These golden hero archetypes make themselves known in the latter half of the book and provide some minor entertainment.

Eliasha, the princess, has a strong moral compass and essentially serves as Gav’s conscience. She of course doesn’t let him assuage his guilt and is obviously quite annoyed at being his prisoner. But she has some flaws as well, which I think shows that even seemingly perfect storybook figures aren’t so impeccable after all. Eliasha learns from her bias and becomes comfortable with her other “flaw,” deemed as such by her family.

With respect to the storytelling, the writing style worked just fine for my preferences. Given the official synopsis I had hoped for a bit more banter and humor, maybe something more over the top. The moat quid is more of a side piece (until it isn’t) rather than a feature. But I still found it entertaining between the goblin kitchen staff mishaps and the low stakes relative to the fantasy I tend to read. I also thought it was a tad bit slow and wanted a little more action, but that didn’t stop me from finishing it.

Even though DREADFUL is a lighter read, it presents some philosophical questions. Who are we without our memories? If we lose them, are we still the same person everyone knows? Should we be held accountable for actions we don’t remember, especially if we no longer seem to be that past person? And can we be a different person without our memories and will people accept that?

It also touches on the importance of appearance. Even though Gav no longer desires to hurt others, he keeps up appearances until he gets his bearings. In this case it’s foreboding decor, furnishings, and clothing. When people see him appear this way, they expect evil actions, particularly since they know past Gavrax. Gav slowly comes to realize perhaps this is a shield for his own cowardice.

Overall, DREADFUL by Caitlin Rozakis is a fun standalone fantasy debut. Betwixt and between the expected evil Dread Lord nonsense are some existential nuggets. There’s just enough philosophy to chew on while Gav has to figure out who he wants to be. Those looking for something that doesn’t take itself too seriously will appreciate DREADFUL.

Rating: 3.75
Content warnings: death, violence, blood
Reading format: Kindle e-book

7 thoughts on “ARC Review: Dreadful by Caitlin Rozakis

  1. Great review! I’ve been so keen to get my hands on this one and while I’m bummed to hear there’s not more banter and humour, the combo of Despicable Me x Shrek sounds like such a fun time! Glad to hear you still managed to have fun with this one 🙂 I can’t wait to read it!

    1. Thanks, Dini! It’s still a fun read and I do recommend it. I was perhaps looking for something a little more obviously humorous, but I still enjoyed the change of pace from darker fantasy!

  2. I’m glad you reviewed this, since it’s one I have my eye on. The cover caught my attention and it seems like the story fits it pretty well. Sometimes I’m in the mood for low stakes????

    1. It’s got some high stakes but the bulk of the story makes it feel kinda low stakes, if that makes sense, because the focus is on the MC rather than the impending ritual. It’s a good read though! I hope you enjoy it if you read it!

  3. Thank you for reviewing this! You make it sound so appealing. I heard of this book when The Broken Binding did a pretty edition of it, but i passed since we hadn’t heard much about it yet. And as Tammy said: sometimes we are in the mood for low stakes!

  4. This was a fun story, though I think I was also expecting more laughs. Shrek x Despicable Me is an apt comparison – great review! 😀

  5. I’ve seen this book pop up around but I have yet to read a review for it so I appreciate you taking the time to write one. It sounds kind of bonkers so I’m curious to check it out, I like books that explore memory.

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