Cover Image: The Sorcerer of Pyongyang

The Sorcerer of Pyongyang

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

This novel is an unusual intersection between the imaginative world of Dungeons and Dragons and the very regimented world of North Korea. Knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons gameplay is not really needed to enjoy the book, since it's focused more on the freedom and storytelling of the game and how it fits into the history of North Korea in the 90s to the present. Also found it interesting that they adapted the game and used yut sticks in lieu of dice.
Was this review helpful?
Sometimes I’m a sucker for a pretty bookcover and this one stuck with me along with it being fantasy mixed with North Korean life. 

Jun-su, a North Korean boy, finds himself in possession of an English-language manual for the game Dungeons and Dragons. Owning this book changes the course of his life. It helps lead him away from the harsh realities of his famine-stricken life. 

Unfortunately for me, I think this book is too much of a niche read. I was interested in the North Korea life aspect of it. But I thought the narrative part of the story fell flat. I think if I was more invested in the Dungeons and Dragons game play it would have been better for me. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria books for this eARC. The Sorcerer of Pyongyang is out now.
Was this review helpful?
This book did a really interesting job of combining North Korean culture with D&D. I enjoyed this one a lot.
Was this review helpful?
the Sorcerer of Pyongyang is a great book that blends historical fiction in Korea with Dungeons and Dragons. I loved the way the game play coincided with the protagonist's actual life.
Was this review helpful?
Thanks to Atria for the copy of this book.

This was a unique blend of historical fiction and Dungeons and Dragons. While you don't have to know the ins and outs of the game because the necessary information is given in the book, I think this is still a niche read for people who love D&D and want to read historical fiction about North Korea in the 1990s. It wasn't for me, and I think would've preferred another medium to experience this piece of history.
Was this review helpful?
I received this Advanced Reader's Copy from NetGalley in exchanged for my unbiased review.

The Sorcerer of Pyongyang by Marcel Theroux tells the story of a North Korean boy named Jun-su, who, by coincidental circumstances, finds himself in possession of an English-language manual for the game Dungeons and Dragons.  Owning this book changes the course of his life.

The story was very well-researched and factual.  Jun-su's experiences lined up with everything that I know about life in North Korea and painted a picture of the everyday experiences of a citizen in that country.  We get to see first hand the North Korean famine of the 90s and how it affected the people.  Most interesting to me was the look at the citizens' complicated feelings about their country, their "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung and subsequent "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il.  

Jun-su was born into belief in his leaders' infallibility and care and concern for their people.  Though presented in third person, the book presents this belief and other questionable or outright incorrect beliefs (unchallenged) in Jun-su's voice.  Sensitive readers will wish they could correct him, but Jun-su will be forced to learn lessons through experience.

Incidentally, there are short forays into the first person as the author inserts himself briefly into the story in a scholarly manner.  Some readers may find this confusing, but I don't think it took away from the story.  Likewise, the mentions of Dungeons and Dragons game play are fairly brief, well-explained and you do not need to be an aficionado of the game to read and understand this book.

Overall, this was an engrossing, quick read about a fascinating topic.  It is always humanizing to read about the everyday lives of people whose cultures are so different from your own.  Recommended to fans of quick reads and novels about other cultures, especially North Korea.
Was this review helpful?
"The acclaimed author of the "sublime" (The New York Times) Far North, a finalist for the National Book Award, returns with a mesmerizing novel about a North Korean boy whose life is irrevocably changed when he stumbles across a mysterious Western book - a guide to Dungeons and Dragons.

Ten-year-old Jun-su is a bright and obedient boy whose only desire is to be a credit to his family, his nation, and most importantly, his Dear Leader. However, when he discovers a copy of The Dungeon Master's Guide, left behind in a hotel room by a rare foreign visitor, a new and colorful world opens up to him.

With the help of an English-speaking teacher, Jun-su deciphers the rules of the famous role-playing game and his imaginary adventures sweep him away from the harsh reality of a famine-stricken North Korea. Over time, the game leads Jun-su on a spellbinding and unexpected journey through the hidden layers of his country, toward precocious success, glory, love, betrayal, prison, a spell at the pinnacle of the North Korean elite, and an extraordinary kind of redemption.

A vivid, uplifting, and deeply researched novel, The Sorcerer of Pyongyang is a love story and a tale of survival against the odds. Inspired by the testimony of North Korean refugees and drawing on the author's personal experience of North Korea, it explores the power of empathy and imagination in a society where they are dangerous liabilities."

If your life hasn't been changed by Dungeons and Dragons now's your chance.
Was this review helpful?
Jun-Su is a ten-year-old North Korean boy who discovers a copy of The Dungeon Master's Guide, left behind by a foreign guest, in the hotel where his father works. The discovery of the book and the strange, fantastical new world it opens for him will forever alter the course of his entire life.

The Sorcerer of Pyongyang is a book that feels both niche and universal -- niche in its subject matter, universal in its themes. No interest in Dungeons & Dragons is required to enjoy this one, although I do think some curiosity about North Korea is necessary. Drawing on his own experiences visiting the country and the testimonies of North Korean refugees, Theroux paints an intimate, vivid portrait of North Korean life, from the famine of the early 1990s to the country's antagonistic, insular present. I've always been fascinated by North Korea, but most documentaries tend to focus on the more sensationalistic aspects of the country and culture, rather than on the day-to-day life of North Koreans like Theroux does here. It's a valuable and important perspective.

Theroux makes the choice to tell Jun-Su's story in a journalistic, almost clinical, style, but that didn't take away from my enjoyment of Sorcerer at all. In fact, Theroux's blurring of the lines between fact and fiction made me care about Jun-Su even more in the end. I felt like I was disconnected from Jun-Su emotionally for most of the book -- until the unexpected, poignant conclusion, when those emotions hit me hard and I realized I was deeply invested in his life and story the entire time.

With universal themes exploring the importance of art and imagination, the resilience of the human spirit, and the need for connection, The Sorcerer of Pyongyang is a riveting and compelling reading experience.
Was this review helpful?
*4+ stars. The story of a North Korean boy, Cho Jun-su, whose discovery of the Western guide to the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons opens up a world of possibilities for him. The author acts somewhat as a documentarian covering Jun-su's life, revealing the harsh realities of living under an oppressive regime where the rules can change without notice. A powerful, compelling story.

I received an arc of this novel from the author and publisher via Net Galley. My review is voluntary and the opinions expressed are my own.
Was this review helpful?
This was a unique read.  A young North Korean boy finds a Dungeon & Dragons manual left behind in a hotel by a British boy and a teacher helps him read it, providing an escape from the deprivations and dangers of life in North Korea.  Very interesting concept and at first I was unsure, but turns out I liked that it was told from the point of view of a third person narrator.  I imagine that the details of life in North Korea are very accurate and life there is so difficult that a little distance is required to describe it, otherwise it's just too much.  I have noticed this in memoirs I have read about people escaping from North Korea, they are usually told in a very clinical, cold way, as if expressing emotion about the horrors experienced would cause a breakdown.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you, NetGalley for the eARC. This book was bleak while remaining unique and enjoyable. I can appreciate that in any title. I am interested in seeing more.
Was this review helpful?
This was a really good book, even if you are not knowledgeable about Dungeons and Dragons, the author provides enough information to be able to relate to the game.  Jun-su is 10 years old when he finds The Dungeons Masters Guide, the cover interests him and although the book is in English, he keeps it.  A teacher at his school, that understands English, helps him with homework during an illness Jun-su was going through, the teacher helps him understand the Dragons book and by extension the game. Jun-su knows that should the local authorities find the book he would likely be arrested and sent for re-education (a polite way of saying prison).  The story is told quickly, there is not a lot of description, but you really get a sense of the oppressive world Jun-su and his family live in.  At any moment someone could say something about you and even if it's not true, you, your family, even your extended family could be arrested and tortured at length. Jun-su is an intelligent boy and at one point he writes a poem about the mountain their Leader was born on, this earns him a spot in a national contest which he wins. At the contest he meets a girl who would become very close to him. I really enjoyed this story and felt it was very true to what happens to the population of North Korea. I would highly recommend.  Thanks to #Netgalley and #Atria Books for the ARC.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you NetGalley for the eARC. This book was so fun. I really enjoyed it. This book kept me interested and i enjoyed the book and this genre
Was this review helpful?
This latest novel by Marcel Theroux will be released on November 29, 2022. Atria Books provided an early galley for review.

I have long known the exhilerating freedom of tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. D&D and others have been a part of my life for over four decades. That connection is what first attracted me to this upcoming novel. And, having run the game for others and having been a player myself, I was very familiar and comfortable with the interpretation and execution of the game within the narrative.

I was intrigued by the depiction of life in North Korea and felt I learned a lot about it through this tale. The author's research and experiences will enlighten readers with the realities the residents live with each day.
Was this review helpful?
Unfortunately, this is a book that falls under “loved the story, but not the execution.”

I'm not familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, other than knowing that it exists, but I love fantasy. So the premise that a poor boy from North Korea comes across a game manual and it provides him a form of escapism from some of the most difficult circumstances in life is a story than I fully support. However, this is not quite the story I thought it would be. 

I excepted a much more emotional narrative and instead got something that felt very clinical and flat. It's not written badly, it just never made me feel anything for Jun-su. Maybe it's because of the short length, which possibly limits the narrative. Had the book been longer, maybe there would have been more room/time for the story to breathe? It is, however, full of great details about life in North Korea which feel authentic, so I did enjoy that.

But overall, not quite the evocative story I was hoping for.
Was this review helpful?
TW/CW: Attempted sexual abuse, executions, starvation, mental illness, torture, sex, slight cruelty to animals

REVIEW: I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley and am voluntarily leaving an honest review.

The Sorcerer of Pyongyang is the story of a boy in North Korea who comes across a Dragon Master’s Guide left there by a young British boy. It is the story of how that book, and the things that he learns from it, affects and changes his life, both for the better and for the worse.

This is a rather bleak book, because – at least according to this book – North Korea is a rather bleak place to live. There is a lot of violence and even more fear of violence that the characters suffer through on a daily basis. Even though Cho Jun-su’s life turns out better than most, it is a terrifying sight into a world that most Americans know next to nothing about.
Was this review helpful?
I requested this one because it might be an upcoming title I would like to review on my Youtube Channel. However, after reading the first several chapters I have determined that this book does not suit my tastes. So I decided to DNF this one.
Was this review helpful?
A young North Korean’s boy life is forever altered when he finds an instruction manual for Dungeons and Dragons. 
That would be the simple one-sentence description of this novel, but it’s really so much more than that. More than a coming-of-age story, too. This novel encompasses an entire life, a life lived in the strangest most isolated and (possibly) most terrifying country on Earth.
The author (son of Paul Theroux and the apple that smartly didn’t roll all that far) utilized his own travels to the area, extensive interviews with North Koreans and equally extensive research to craft a story as immersive as it is heartrending. 
Marcel Theroux’s documentary style of writing with the author himself as a character/observer/narrator has a dual effect in the story – it does create a certain remove/an emotional distance from the protagonist which I don’t think I loved but it also makes for a very compelling storytelling experience, something like an exceptional journalistic article that goes on and on to span years.
It will work for different readers differently, I’m sure, but either way it WILL work. It’s such an emotionally engaging story with such a strong likable protagonist trapped in a seeming procession of impossible situations that can only spring from a place that (much like D&D) makes its own rules and is guided by its own (terrifying) logic.
Wherein the narrative style detracted something from the internality of the protagonist, it made up epically with the grand picture and utilizing the location as character.
All in all, a terrific book with a sorcery of its own. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
Was this review helpful?
This is a very niche read. If you aren't a fan or have any working knowledge of North Korea or dungeons and dragons you probably won't appreciate it. It wasn't an easy read and I had a hard time finding the plot points to pull it all together. There was also a random "I" character that I couldn't figure out where they really fit in the book.
Was this review helpful?
Pretty good. I thought the premise sounded tough to pull off based on the description. It mostly worked, and kudos to the author for pushing the envelop. I don't know if this will find a large audience but think some historical fiction and D&D fans will like this.

Thanks very much for the free ARC for review!!
Was this review helpful?