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T O P I C    R E V I E W
VikingLegion Posted - 24 May 2015 : 07:34:09
Greetings fellow Realms enthusiasts,

Several years ago I made a goal to read *every* novel from the major D&D worlds/settings. After blasting through the smaller libraries of Darksun, Ravenloft, and Planescape, I decided to tackle Dragonlance. Just recently I finished my 166th and final Dragonlance book. And now I have my sights set on the Forgotten Realms, a no-doubt Herculean task that will make DL easy by comparison.

As I finish each book I plan make a post in this thread. Some may be quite lengthy, others only a sentence or three, all depending on how deeply the story resonated with me and/or its greater importance in Realms lore. This is not a "book club" attempt, in that I won't be holding to any set schedule or waiting for others to finish a particular book. My pace is roughly one 300 page book per week, though occasionally I go on a torrid streak and can sometimes double that. So I won't limit my reading so others can read along with. That being said, I heartily encourage fellow Candlekeepers to jump right in with their own commentary. This can be a fun, nostalgic for some, trip through the history of the novel line. My only rules are thus:

1. I will make no attempt to hide spoilers for books as I finish them, so reader beware. This shouldn't pose much of a problem, as the material (in the early going specifically) is close to 30 years old.
2. Please, please, please, when discussing a book I've read, do NOT divulge spoilers that may occur further down the line as a result of said book.
3. Keep it civil. There are some author's writing styles that turn me off a bit, and I won't be shy about saying so, but it will be done in a manner that isn't toxic bashing.

My order of reading is going to loosely follow publishing date. I say loosely, because I will (early and often) deviate from this order when it makes sense, such as finishing up a series, or staying within a certain theme/region/etc. With that said, I began this endeavor with 1987's Darkwalker on Moonshae.
25   L A T E S T    R E P L I E S    (Newest First)
VikingLegion Posted - 21 Oct 2018 : 19:40:01
Thanks Demzer, good info.

I finished The Shield of Weeping Ghosts a couple days ago. I really like James P. Davis' writing style. I mentioned this in Bloodwalk but I don't recall there being any responses to that writeup. Shield was a bit more moody, maudlin, lots of flashbacks and ghostly angst. It did bog down at times, but overall I thought he did a really good job of describing the anguish of the spirits - locked for eternity in their time loops, doomed to forever repeat a series of horrific events. The action takes place primarily in the ruin of Shandaular, an old city on the Ashane Lake right on the border of Rashemen and Narfell. Most of the Rashemen books I've read thus far have done an admirable job of describing the location and culture (of one of my favorite areas of the Realms) and this was no exception. The main character is a vremyonni (male wizard) being sent into exile for dubious crimes. He is escorted by a fang of berserkers led by a wychlaren. They travel through the ruins of Shandaular, which is supposed to be a wychlaren-controlled outpost that guards against foreign intrusion. But the witches are missing and many of the protective wards that hold the angry spirits at bay have been erased or corrupted. We also get quite a bit of the demon-worshipping Nar involved, so bonus points for that. Good story for the most part, very interesting characters and an intriguing plot. Not quite as good as Bloodwalk, but not far behind, and I'm happy to see I still have 2 more books from this author.

If I can tangent for a bit, I feel like a lot of these standalone series - The Classes, The Dungeons, The Citadels, and so on got a bad wrap. I expected them to be of widely varying qualities, and that much is true, but I've also found several gems amongst them. I wonder if they just didn't sell all that well and have limited exposure. This was a decade ago, and I wasn't reading any FR at the time, so I don't have a good feel for the pulse of what was going on in that time frame. Anyway, up next I wrap up the Citadels series with the 4th book: Sentinelspire.
Demzer Posted - 12 Oct 2018 : 14:42:41
Originally posted by VikingLegion

There were clerics of Waukeen casting divine spells, wasn't she destroyed during the ToT or am I remembering wrong?

During the ToT, to try and sneak back to her home plane, Waukeen left her divinity in trust to Lliira and started a plane hopping journey to smuggle herself back home as a super powerful mortal. Graz'zt reneged on his part of the bargain when she showed up in the Abyss and she was held captive there until 1371 when she was freed by adventurers (a playable module from late 2E called For Duty and Deity).

From 1358 until 1371 the Joybringer kept answering prayers of the Waukenaars and granting them spells. After 1371 Waukeen was back on full divinity (albeit with a much reduced pool of faithful since over her absence a lot converted to the direct worship of Lliira).
VikingLegion Posted - 12 Oct 2018 : 14:07:57
I finished Obsidian Ridge last night. I'm guessing I'm the only one who has read this, so discussion will be non-existent. It wasn't a great book, but it had its moments. There were some goofy elements, like a night-prowling vigilante named The Claw who was basically Batman with a dash of Wolverine sprinkled in. Add in some terrible dialogue like, "I'll get you for this, Korox! You'll be dead soon, and so will the Claw!" and it came off very comic-booky.

The story was set in Erlkazar in 1366. I just can't seem to avoid this area of late. It's not a region I find particularly interesting, but I can only go where the books take me. Anyway, we have a king of a young nation (only recently liberated from Tethyr) defending his land against a mad wizard and his flying mountain fortress. I've always really liked the cloud castle theme - from Jack and the Beanstalk, to the flying citadels of the Dragonarmy in the Dragonlance books, to the floating enclaves of Netheril, to several D&D adventures featuring cloud/storm giants up there in there flying castles - it really gets my imagination fired up. Anyway, this immortal mage needs a new bride every few decades, as he drains their life-force to power his own longevity. He has his eye on the king's daughter. It forces an interesting moral dilemma - give up your one and only daughter but save thousands of your subject's lives?

There were some sideplots involving a criminal organization distributing an illegal drug called Elixir. That same group had their own princess kidnapping/ransom scheme going, so it was amusing to see the king struggling with his decision when handing over the princess wasn't even an option at that point (as she had been abducted by thugs.) There was a Deepspawn, one of my favorite monsters, so that was awesome. There were clerics of Waukeen casting divine spells, wasn't she destroyed during the ToT or am I remembering wrong? All in all it was an ok book. The writing quality was mostly sub-par, but it was a quick and easy read with a few interesting elements. I've read far worse (looking at you Once Around the Realms - still the gold standard for hideousness).

Up next, still not into committing to a trilogy right now, so I'll keep going with the standalone Citadels. Due up is Shield of Weeping Ghosts, which I'm cautiously optimistic for, as I really liked the author's previous work: Bloodwalk.
Seravin Posted - 11 Oct 2018 : 14:48:25
I was half expecting you to like this series so I'm glad I'm not the only one who disliked it (although my dislike is more like hate for this trilogy for a number of reasons already listed).

What was up with Tam summoning Bane and then wheeling and dealing with him? For some reason I absolutely HATED this part of the book. It seems so out-of-character for Szass, even if he sees himself as the manipulator hoodwinking a deity. It just seemed to come from left field and took me by surprise, and not in a good way. Maybe Seravin or someone else can articulate better why I completely loathed this development, it just didn't work for me in any way.

The thing for me is, in all the other depictions of Tam that I can recollect: Red Magic, Simbul's Gift, and Crusade (from the Empires trilogy the only good RSE imho) - Szass Tam is previously written as someone who is almost noble, well spoken, above gross displays of his vast power, and happy to work through agents and behave very pragmatically even with Harpers or "good" beings. So he does come across out of character in this part of the book to me. Generally I hate when "mortals" (I know that's not the case with Szass but bear with) deal with Gods anyway - nevermind trying to pull one over on them or anything of the sort. To me Gods and inhabitants of the Realms should not be interacting directly; only through Chosen or priests etc. Avatars should be saved for RSE (I liked when Tempus appeared in the 3rd Shadow of the Avatar book to help the Dalesmen against the Zhents for instance).

Good call on waiting a while before the Empyrean Odyssey! Fortunately once the dust settles there is some solid 4E material to read even by a curmedgeon's standards.
VikingLegion Posted - 07 Oct 2018 : 22:31:23
Thank you George. You've been a valued part of this thread with your encyclopediac knowledge of the Realms. For my part I'm happy to keep it going all the way up to the final novel.

I just finished powering through Unholy, wrapping up the Haunted Lands Trilogy. I didn't have many notes for this one, I think I sort of fatigued out on the overall story. I did enjoy the twist with Malark betraying Tam and assuming control of the Unmaking. Other than that, this story (and indeed the whole trilogy) seemed to be just one big military engagement after another. Definitely not Byers best work.

Also it really irked me that after defeating Malark in an epic battle that was draining all their reserves, Szass was then able to easily dispatch 4 other zulkirs plus Aoth. I get it, his undead lifespan has allowed him a greater mastery of magic than other zulkirs. But c'mon, these guys are also masters of their craft. Szass should be able to beat any one of them easily, even any two of them in combination. But 4 plus a very powerful battlemage/leader of the Brotherhood of the Griffin? He slaughtered them with almost contemptuous ease, thus assuring the continued state of Thay as a boring necropolis instead of the magnificent and interesting nation it once was. Yay for WoW.

I see there's a Griffon trilogy coming up in the future, but honestly with Bareris and Mirror destroyed I'm not sure how interested I am in that. They were by far the more intriguing members of that group, Aoth is sort of one-note and not all that exciting.

Up next - I'm supposed to start the Empyrean Odyssey, but I just don't want to handle another RSE, Cosmos Shattering Event at this point. So I'll skip that for now and take on some more standard fare in a return to the Citadels series with book 2: Obsidian Ridge.

George Krashos Posted - 06 Oct 2018 : 02:30:50
I just wanted to tell you VikingLegion that I always enjoy your posts and commentary re the FR novel line. Always good to revisit old reads and sometimes get a different perspective on them. Much appreciated.

-- George Krashos
VikingLegion Posted - 06 Oct 2018 : 01:52:01
Originally posted by Seravin
That's not a huge ask in my opinion for an author and certainly what any of us would do if writing a Realms novel!

Agreed. I'm knocking out one of these pretty much per week and that's in my spare time. If it was my job, I would consider these research and finish it in 2-3 days max. Somewhere in this thread is a quote from Elaine detailing her approach - she basically saw the Realms as a world and all existing products (novels, rulebooks, even video games) as the *history* of that world, and immersed herself fully. It'd be nice to see that level of commitment across the board. There's a lot I like about Byers writing style and sensibilities, but he does get some things really wrong from time to time.

That said, I finished Undead a couple days ago. My first note was "Spellplague, Ugghhh!" I knew I was getting closer to this unfortunate event and the subsequent ~100 year time jump, but I didn't realize it was going to happen right there in the middle of the trilogy. It was jarring, it was demoralizing, it left a bad taste in my mouth. I hate all the silly contrivances that have to take place to preserve a roster of characters - Aoth is magically preserved by the blue flame and doesn't age, Bareris turns undead, all the zulkirs extend their lifespans with magic, even the ones that might normally find such necromancy distasteful. I imagine I will encounter a similar degree of handwaving when I get to the Drizzt and Superfriends books of this time period.

I'm surprised that Aglarond and Rashemen haven't made any more aggressive moves against Thay during all this turmoil (before the blue fire, they're probably busy from that point.) It would seem the ripe time to weaken a country that has been a constant thorn in your side forever - if not to invade and annex land, at the very least to cripple their military, perhaps remove key generals and leaders, etc. Maybe they are too wary that the whole civil war is just a staged event to draw them into a trap. Or maybe they are just happy to not be the target of aggression and would rather not poke the bear. Do they at least have some kind of mutual defense pact where they assist each other during Thayan incursion?

Bareris and Tammith have this kind of dark, gothic, angsty teen romance thing going. I thought I was going to find it cheesy and tiring, but I'm actually liking it for some reason. Maybe it's just their sheer resignation and hopelessness - just two damned souls trying to make the most of a pretty grim situation. I do like the darkness and grittiness of this book, Byers certainly isn't adding any sunshine and flowers.

What was up with Tam summoning Bane and then wheeling and dealing with him? For some reason I absolutely HATED this part of the book. It seems so out-of-character for Szass, even if he sees himself as the manipulator hoodwinking a deity. It just seemed to come from left field and took me by surprise, and not in a good way. Maybe Seravin or someone else can articulate better why I completely loathed this development, it just didn't work for me in any way.

Up next, might as well finish it out with Unholy, about two thirds of the way through as of this writing.
Seravin Posted - 30 Sep 2018 : 13:55:26
Lynn Abbey's "Gift" was writen and came out first, and was an in-universe canon novel, so I think the onus is on RLB to carry her character's personalities onwards. If RLB had written it first and published it first, then Lynn would be the one reinventing the characters not RLB. So I think there is a responsibility in a shared setting to look into how the characters have been written and established in the canon material. It's just one book in this case (two if you count Red Magic from the Harpers which really had a lot of Szass) that you'd need to read before writing a Thay novel, on top of the sourcebook materials. I would say that her book followed the existing lore from the 2nd edition source material very, very well.

That's not a huge ask in my opinion for an author and certainly what any of us would do if writing a Realms novel!

Szass' portrayal is mostly in line with previous books, in Simbul's Gift he was recovering from a major setback so barely present except in the Zulkir convocation where everyone was shocked at how awful/weak he looked.

VikingLegion Posted - 30 Sep 2018 : 00:55:59
Well I finally finished Unclean. Typing while recovering from rotator cuff surgery, so this will be brief.

Szazz Tam's personality - RLB conveys him with a very patient, almost gentlemanly demeanor. I really like it, it goes well as a counterpoint to the horror we all know he really is. I was just curious if that is consistent with other portrayals of him. I can honestly say I can't recall seeing his mannerisms, or any speaking lines for that matter in other products, just people alluding to how powerful and terrifyihng he is. Did he make an appearance in Simbul's Gift I'm forgetting?

Chapter 4 - sigh... Byers did it again, having demons and devils in close proximity to each other and not instantly going for each other's throats. This was one of the biggest bugaboos of the Last Mythal Trilogy and it rears its head again here. C'mon Richard, do your research. This ties hand-in-hand with Seravin's comment above about how he didn't read Simbul's Gift to get a better feel for the personalities of the various zulkirs. However, to soften that blow, who is to say that Lynn Abbey's vision is the correct one? I personally thought she knocked it out of the park with that book - the personalities, the tone and character of Thay itself, etc. - but does that mean her version of those people is the correct one? I've already stated I far prefer RAS's Alustriel to Ed's, even though Greenwood is the creator and therefore should be the final arbiter. So while it would be nice if Byers read Abbey's book and continued to write the characters in that manner, there obviously was no mandate for him to do so. Ahh, the perils and pitfalls of a shared sandbox world I guess.

I dig Tam's overall scheme in general. Create problems for your country, and then demonstrate you are the only one that can solve them. It had a very Augustus Caesar vibe to it, with barbarians threatening at the gate. I was a little disappointed though when he petitioned the council to install him as a supreme leader. That lacked subtlety. Far better to continue the charade until the people and fellow councilers *ask* you to assume that mantle and you *reluctantly* accept it for the good of the people. Szass Tam overplayed his hand and I thought it was clumsy.

Aoth, Baraeris, Mirror, and so on are ok. They haven't endeared themselves to me as characters, but I don't dislike them either. They are interesting enough where I'm willing to let them develop further. The bard's side plot with his lady becoming a mutated vampire subtype is the most interesting of the bunch.

All in all it is an ok book. I like the political maneuvering, the large scale battles are engaging. But it does suffer from the aforementioned weaknesses. On to book 2: Undead
Seravin Posted - 25 Sep 2018 : 17:47:11
As I typed that I felt, somewhere, Seravin twitch in disappointment over the terrible mis-handling of one of the most interesting magocracies in FR lore.

The dissapointing setting changes/Realms Shaking Events to make things more like Warcarft aside...

RLB wrote on Facebook that he hadn't read The Simbul's Gift before writing this trilogy. I think that is a really horrible disservice to the Realms as a shared setting, since The Simbul's Gift shows Thay in a light that I think is very true to Ed's vision and very much in line with the setting Source Material (Red Magic and the Thay box set). As well, characters from that book are written completely inconsistently (especially Aznar Thrull who is actually reckless as opposed to HUGELY paranoid to the point of madness in "Gift"). I don't understand how an author can be told to write a book on Thay and then not read one of the only novels actually set there before to see how the characters were handled. Or at least the editors. Nevermind that the Zulkir of Evocation has no contingency magic on his person despite it being a evocation school magic..sigh. I could go on, but I hated this book/series for more reasons than what it did to Thay.
VikingLegion Posted - 20 Sep 2018 : 02:05:19
Originally posted by VikingLegion

I have partially read the anthology Realms of War. I noticed the stories are arranged in order of their Dale Reckoning Year, so I figured I'd read the "safe" ones that occurred some time ago. I'll now put this back on the shelf and revisit the rest of the tales after I catch up in the main line of products.[snip]

Finished it up, here are the remainder:

The Siege of Zerith Hold - Jess Lebow - I barely remembered the characters from the novel that spawned this short story. I find the history of Tethyr/Erlkazar just doesn't stick in my head anyway. This was a solid, though unremarkable story of defenders beating back the typical goblinoid horde that outnumbers them 10:1. There was nothing wrong with it, it just didn't do much for me.

Mercy's Reward - Mark Sehestedt - Hordelands, love it. References to Frostfell, love it. More lythari, check. Really good story from an author that has been growing on me the more I see of his work.

Redemption - Elaine Cunningham - when I said I was sad at having read the last offering from EC, I was not aware of this story, so it came as an unexpected boon. I just got done saying Tethyr is "meh" for me, but E.C. always seems to make it more interesting to me with the elven/human conflict, the lythari (seeing a lot of them lately!), and so on. Good story, it brings back the elven assassin named Ferret. I savored it as slowly as I could, like that last spoonful of ice-cream at the end of the sundae!

Changing Tides - Mel Odom - I think I was a little bit alone in my admiration of the Threat from the Seas Trilogy, if I recall correctly. This story is yet another aquatic adventure in the region, and another pretty good one IMO. Here we have a morally vague treasure hunter getting caught between several factions: greedy humans, territorial sea-elves, and savage sahuagin (are there any other kind?) I still don't understand how an underwater wall manned by elves is supposed to hem in the sahuagin. If it doesn't reach to, and even above, the surface, what difference would it make at 10 feet or 600 feet high? Either way foes can attack at multiple angles, or simply swim above defenders causing them to abandon their post to intercept.

Chase the Dark - Jaleigh Johnson - I feel like a broken record here, but I really dig Jaleigh's style and vibe. It's very different from the traditional D&D writers, but not so out of tune as to be incompatible. I always find her stories to be refreshing and interesting.

Bones and Stones - RAS - an excellent short about the damage that is only realized after a battle. Some may criticize his choice to "recycle" portions of Drizzt's musings from one of the Obould novels. I thought it was a masterfully done job of interspersing one of the best examples of those journal thoughts with a simple story of two soldiers from opposing sides (Pwent and an orc) each trying to recover corpses for proper burial and honoring. It was no Dark Mirror, but it was one of his better shorts.

Second Chance - Richard Lee Byers - I haven't started the Thay trilogy yet, so this one made me nervous. I decided to read it and stop if my spidey sense went off over incoming major spoilers. That did not happen, this seems to be a very early engagement in the Thayan civil war that I already know is going to happen. Decent story of a young priest who loses his nerve and has to rekindle his courage. I don't feel the quality was up to Byers' usual standards, but it was ok.

And that does it for the Realms of War anthology. Fitting that it ended with with a Thayan tale, as the next book I plan to start is Unclean, the first of the Haunted Lands books. As I typed that I felt, somewhere, Seravin twitch in disappointment over the terrible mis-handling of one of the most interesting magocracies in FR lore.

VikingLegion Posted - 20 Sep 2018 : 00:52:00
I finished Neversfall a few days ago. My notes are extremely sparse, it just didn't feel all that remarkable to me, probably because I'm largely unfamiliar with the Shining South. I did like the formians as sometimes enemies/sometimes allies. I've said it many times before, but my background was mainly in Planescape before FR, and I've always felt formians had a lot of potential, precisely because they are not exactly evil, but so rigidly lawful that several of their actions can easily by interpreted as such. They were utilized well in this story. The main characters were believable and went through some decent development.

What drove me absolutely nuts was the piss-poor editing. By page two there were already major errors - like a character name being spelled differently in back-to-back paragraphs. I can understand this happening on page 180 or something, as mental familiarity sets in and an editor's concentration lapses, but on page 2? I've read that many people don't even notice a misspelling when it occurs wihtin the middle of a word, so long as the beginning and end are accurate. Also on page 2, "Adeenya had begun training behind her father's back, in preparation for join the Maquar." How can an editor be checked out by PAGE TWO?!?!? Elaine, how does this stuff make it to final print? Am I crazy?

Page 275 is the beginning of Chapter 21
Page 288 we have Chapter 29 - WHAT HAPPENED TO 22-28?
Page 295 brings us the final chapter, titled Chapter 24... naturally

So... a decent story overall, nothing particularly good or bad. I guess some slack should be given for a first time novelist, I can't imagine how nerve-frazzling that monumental task must be, as I've never made it past chapter 2 in my several aborted attempts at writing.
Irennan Posted - 12 Sep 2018 : 17:30:15
Originally posted by CTrunks

Plus, the Ondonti were once a thing, so it's not like there was zero precedent for 'good' orcs in the Realms. But it was probably also because of WoW (and WarCraft 3 before it).

The Ondonti date back to 2e, so they predate Warcraft 3 and WoW, though.
Irennan Posted - 12 Sep 2018 : 17:28:50
Originally posted by Seravin

I still *personally* don't think Ed would have peaceful orcs in great enough numbers to form a peaceful trading civilization, as it didn't happen in the OGB

Ed's Realms are much larger than what the OGB showed. For example, the OGB didn't include Eilistraee, but Ed has stated multiple times that Eilistraee had already been part of his Realms and campaign for a long time when TSR asked him for more drow deities. The same could be true for the orcs. In general, Ed's Realms are open to variety when it comes to these things. Then again, we can only speculate on this.
Seravin Posted - 12 Sep 2018 : 17:18:27
Originally posted by CTrunks
But it was probably also because of WoW (and WarCraft 3 before it).

Ding ding ding...this is exactly right in my opinion. The timing of this Orc Kingdom/Obould/ManyArrows and a "lich king" ruling in Thay (removing the unique Zulkirs ruling that IS in Ed's vision) at the same time as the massive popularity of World of Warcraft and someone at WotC Hasbro wanting to align their IP with what the kids like elsewhere just makes me hate both things too much to be objective.

I still *personally* don't think Ed would have peaceful orcs in great enough numbers to form a peaceful trading civilization, as it didn't happen in the OGB -- to me Ed's thinking is that orcs are inherently evil when taken as a group and too stupid to cooperate, operating on a hierachry of fear and punishment and killing your way to the top. The only thing that makes them a power is their ability to breed such large numbers they horde every few decades (see also kobolds, goblins, gnolls, etc).

I agree that individual orcs could be much more neutral and perhaps even the occasional orc could be "good", but these should be so rare as to be a non-factor based on the D&D orc.

All that said, they made it happen and I guess FR orcs are now just "misunderstood" like Drizzt. Then of course *spoilers ruin my point here*, but yeah, it's all not worth talking about because of what occurs post.

I think I'm the only one who liked Pirate King :)
Irennan Posted - 12 Sep 2018 : 14:11:37
I appreciate the attempt at adding nuance to the orcs, it makes the narrative including them more interesting, and it opens up the opportunity for stories that don't just include them as mere cannon fodder. Plus, @Seravin, I'd say that it is in line with Ed's take on "evil" races: if he added entirely different faiths and cultures to the drow, why not the orcs? Also, if orc cultures/subraces like the Ondonti exist, if the orcs could successfully coexist with the humans in Thesk after the whole Tuigan invasion thing, it's not much of a stretch to say that something like Many Arrows could come to be.
CTrunks Posted - 12 Sep 2018 : 13:53:25
I dunno, a thief with a mace could make sense. It's the same concept as an orc thief; you whack 'em on the head, then take their stuff while they're unconscious.

I do agree that turning Cattie-Brie from a warrior to a mage did come out of nowhere, and doesn't really go anywhere. Honestly, I gotta wonder if the decision of doing the Spellplague (the "Great Nonsense") caused a change in plans from what might have been planned for Cattie-Brie and Drizzt. Likewise, I think Wulfgar leaving was another change that might not have been planned immediately, but was done to write him out before the Great Nonsense could occur.

My bigger problem with the book is more of a hindsight thing, and something I can't really... explain without spoilers for later books. At the time, though, and even on its own, I do like the idea of Many-Arrows; trying to civilize a group of orcs isn't, necessarily, a bad thing to me. Yeah, it feels like a decision that was made because World of WarCraft was, at the time, stupid popular, but it's not an awful idea. And I honestly thought that the conflict between the two factions of orcs - those who want to continue to get their murder and pillage on, versus those that see the potential to improve their lives and focus on long-term goals over short-term gains - was an interesting one to me. It's a visionary fighting against generations of tradition, all while worrying about their neighbors whose toes have been viciously stepped on. If given a few generations, it could have some real potential, and signal the start of change for their people as a whole.

Plus, the Ondonti were once a thing, so it's not like there was zero precedent for 'good' orcs in the Realms. But it was probably also because of WoW (and WarCraft 3 before it).

I also think it's something kinda mirrored with Tos'un Armgo, though it was much more internal. He started off - in this book, anyway - as someone who was focused only on his survival, and was given the option between the easy path (taking advantage of the orcs of Clan Ggruch for chaos and lulz, even though he really hated the whole lot of them by that point), or the harder path (working with the elves from the Moonwood, even though there was a risk he'd have to face the consequences for being involved in this whole mess). And in the end, he chose the harder path, and apparently proved himself to the others. It was another thing that had potential.
Seravin Posted - 12 Sep 2018 : 10:05:56
It's not really dealt with much, but my understaning from D&D mechanics and previous novels is that magic use is not something you stumble into at middle age when you break your hip. Rather you have a gift for the art that is recognized early and you go on to apprentice in your teens with a wizard. Cattie-Sue..I mean Cattie-Brie being good at everything she tries and having no discernable character flaws or interesting traits makes her the worst for me. And yes, I'm sure Bob just wanted to bring in some magic-use to his core character base who are all fighters (Regis barely thieves in any of the books, his hook in the beginning was more the Ruby to charm people than it was to climb walls and detect/disarm traps or backstab with his "mace" which why would he even be a thief with a mace?).

I wasn't a fan of Orc King, and I view it as Bob flexing his power to make the Realms different than intended, as I can't say that Ed's vision would include humanized orcs trading with the good races. Seems a bit shoe-horned Real World politics thurst into the Realms for my tastes, which wouldn't be the first time he's done this with his priest of Selune child molesters nonsense.
VikingLegion Posted - 09 Sep 2018 : 13:09:03
The Orc King - good story overall but I do have some specific critiques:

I didn't care for the start which was 100 years in the post-Spellplague future. I hate it when TV shows open up with a scene, something dramatic happens, then it fades to black with a line that says "2 weeks earlier" or whatever before going to the main episode. It's a completely unnecessary gimmick, just start at the beginning. Also the ultra-racist orc-hunting band of ethnic cleansers - did they need to be so obviously modeled after a despicable real-world organization whose name I'll not mention? These humans, elves, and dwarves dedicated to destroying all orcs, even (particularly!) peaceful ones wear hoods, robes, and call themselves the Casin Cu Calas, or the "Triple C."

Alustriel - I've said it before and I'll say it again, I like RAS's depiction of her better than Greenwood's. I know that sounds odd, being that EG is the creator, but I feel similarly about Lynn Abbey's Simbul. Ed's Sisters are essentially the same character with minor deviances, the other authors bring out better nuance. RAS's Alustriel has a much more regal aspect.

Sunset and Innovindil's big scene was hard to read. I had such strongly mixed feelings - I wanted them to escape because I really dig the characters. But at the same time I recognized how important it was for the orcs to get a win in order to establish credibility as proper villains. The bad guy's plots have to succeed from time to time or they become little more than incompetent clowns. So, even as I was reading the scene, I was cheering for RAS not to pull any punches, to make this end how it needs to end, but dreading it all the while.

Wulfgar's goodbye felt like a real goodbye. Is he being written out of the Drizzt universe to clear the way for Drizzt/Cattie? Is he being sent away to spin off into other side-tales of Icewind Dale? Or is he being put on temporary hiatus so that he may gather a large tribe and someday come thundering out of the North with an army of berserkers to save the day as an unexpected reinforcement in some future engagement? I guess only time will answer that question.

So Cattie is a mage now, I guess. I've always felt the Companions of the Hall could've used a bit more diversity. Sure, Regis has thief skills, but the rest are basically just warriors mainly. They have obvious style differences, of course, but no spellcasters among them. Drizzt's ranger side doesn't really shine through to me all that much aside from some occasional tracking. Guen could be seen as an Animal Companion, but being a magically summoned entity, anyone could do the same as long as they possess the onyx figurine. It makes me think of a Joss Whedon interview I saw before Avengers 2. He was so excited to bring in the Scarlet Witch character, because before that, all his protagonists were "punchy heroes" (Captain America, Hulk, Thor) and Wanda finally gave him someone to explore some other forms of interesting combat.

So, back to Cattie. She went from young tomboy to devastating archer with the introduction of Taulmaril. RAS must've gotten bored with that at some point so he gave her Khazid'hea and she became a very good (but not great) swordswoman. Now she has an injured hip and loaned out her bow, so I guess that's Bob's way of saying he feels the character has stagnated and needs a new path. Enter Alustriel and her offer to tutor Cat as a mage. She handles herself very well with a wand in the first battle (aside from blasting herself in the foot once!), and now thanks to Drizzt scavenging a robe from Jack the Gnome, she already has a magnificent (probably overpowered) magical garment to start her career. If I know Salvatore, I'm sure she'll be capable of dueling Manshoon to a standstill by the next book.

Criticisms aside, this book did do something rather amazing - make me feel sympathy for orcs. There's the obvious Obould plotline that's been running for awhile now; how he wants to carve out a more civilized empire for his people. But you know what was even more important than that? The short scene with the two orc sentries out on patrol, gathering firewood. They gripe about their wives scolding them, complain about typical soldier duties, and so on right before an elven arrow takes one through the throat and the other is cut down by sword. That one little snippet did more to humanize them (if that makes sense) than all the rest.

The climactic scene with Bruenor and Obould staring each other down, unsure of what will come next after unexpectedly helping each other, was really tense and well done.

Up next, I grabbed book one of the citadels, Neversfall.
VikingLegion Posted - 08 Sep 2018 : 13:24:21
I feel like I'm falling behind! I've since finished two more books since the last post a week ago. Seeing as there were no comments regarding Stardeep, I'll just move on to the first of the two:

Crypt of the Moaning Diamond is the first novel by Rosemary Jones. It's a little bit light on Realms lore but it appears she made a sincere effort, at least as far as the region it is set in. I found the the cultural information on Procampur to be very interesting, their mannerisms, dedication to politeness and duty, the strict caste of a city where your standing in the hierarchy is dictated openly by the color of your roof shingles. She did a very good job bringing the "character" of the region out. I did a little digging into Procampur and found out this story takes place in the mid-1200s DR. I wouldn't have known that otherwise, as this story seemed to take place a little bit in a void of its own. A simple **Chapter 1: Tsurlagol 1246 DR** location/date blurb would've been a really nice touch. In fact, I think all Realms books should start in that manner to immediately let the reader know where, and more importantly, when they are.

Like a few other books I've mentioned, this one suffered from a single group PoV with no (or too few) cutaways. Also the language was surprisingly simplistic at times, like describing an enemy as "a bad guy with big, mean guards." I think this was done deliberately, as the main protagonist, Ivy, is a farmgirl turned mercenary. She mentions several times she just wants to make enough money to fix the hole in her barn roof, so I have to believe that was done on purpose to play up Ivy's rustic and unsophisticated upbringing. The way her personality clashed with the stuffy, ultra-proper Procampuran officer Sanval was amusing. There were a lot of very eccentric characters - a half-orc and a genasi that are step sisters (same father, VERY different mothers!), the dwarf who is obsessed with his pet dog, and so on. They were quirky and odd, and took a little while to grow on me, but I definitely liked them by the end.

The bugbear poets were an interesting choice....

All in all it was an ok book, nothing anyone would consider essential to the Realms, but I enjoyed it for what it was. Since then I've already finished The Orc King, I'll try to get to that tomorrow.
VikingLegion Posted - 01 Sep 2018 : 21:17:36
Originally posted by CTrunks

So, I'm gonna let the others potentially go on rants about how poorly thought out this whole, bizarre... plan for turning the few 'untainted' drow back into dark elves (dark elves who, apparently, don't have their darkvision anymore, judging by the reaction of those drow from Sshamath who were with Q'arlynd - and oh yeah, some of those dark elves are still underground) was, but The Orc King's prologue is the only bit set within the future. The rest of it follows shortly after the end of the short story from the Realms of the Elves (The Last Mythal short story anthology).

Good info, thanks.

Re-shuffling reading order again :)
VikingLegion Posted - 01 Sep 2018 : 21:14:03
I feel like I've been away for a long time! I finished Stardeep several days ago. This book was outstanding. Cordell definitely has his own fantasy vibe and sensibilities, and it's probably not for everyone. In fact, in my own review of Darkvision I stated that his magi-tek/crystal "cybernetic" enhancements just weren't working for me. But here in Stardeep we see perhaps even more sci-fi elements and terminology - the containment well, Cynosure: a sentient defense system reminiscent of HAL 9000, and so on. But he pulled it off magnificently, IMO.

This whole "Dungeons being used as prisoners for elder evil beings" theme seems to repeat a bit in FR. Not that I mind the trope, just an observation.

The characters were extremely unique and interesting. I liked Gage's demon gauntlets, even if they were more than a bit reminiscent of Vampire Hunter D. Kiril, a character I found only marginally interesting in the previous book, really grew on me here. The story of the slaughter that led her to her alcoholic ways was tragic and powerful. Delphe was pretty cool too, I wonder if her name was inspired by the Oracle at Delphi, seems reasonable even though Telarian is the one with prophetic sight.

Speaking of Telarian, his descent into madness was extremely satisfying. There's nothing scarier than a villain who firmly believes he's the hero doing the right thing. Telarian has that Tony Stark massive ego, wherein he, and only he, can save everyone from themselves - but he just ends up making everything so much worse.

Angul/Nis were show-stealers. Nis is kind of the Danny DeVito to Angul's Schwarzenegger - comprised of all the leftovers when the purity, righteousness, and dedication to duty was siphoned out. But yet Nis is still massively powerful - his cold logic and emotional detachment insulate his wielder against all doubt, a perfect counterpart to Angul's crusaderlike zealousness.

A monk named Raidon Kane? Going to have to dock a few points for that - both first name and surname. Very cool character, but that name. C'mon Bruce...

The salt liches underneath Stardeep were a super cool touch. As was the very Lovecraftian vibe of Xxiphu rising up to take over the world. I also really enjoyed how Kiril simply couldn't resist the drug that is Angul at the end, even though she knew it would be better for both parties if they parted ways. Flawed protagonists are usually so much more interesting and things are set up nicely for the Abolethic Sovereignty trilogy, even though I won't get there for quite some time.

I've since moved on to finish the Dungeons series and am nearly done with Crypt of the Moaning Diamond. Review on Monday possibly?

VikingLegion Posted - 01 Sep 2018 : 20:49:49
Originally posted by Irennan

The biggest offender in this novel is, IMHO, the concept of redemption that Smedman introduces. It's basically the Original Sin, and she associates it with a goddess that is diametrally opposed to that concept. In this, Smedman basically crushes the entire point of Eilistraee--it's the worst blow of them all.

Eilistraee's concept of redemption is, to me, beautiful. Her whole MO is all about gently luring the drow out of that prison, setting their spark alight. It's all about helping the dark elves to embark on a journey to experience all that they've been missing on in life; to rediscover the sheer joy of existence and of freely chasing their dreams; to see with their eyes and understand that things don't have to be like Lolth forces them to believe, but that another path exists and it leads to liberation and happiness. Over the course of this journey, she's there in all the important moments, she helps her "children" in various practical ways (especially to thrive on the surface) nurturing, protecting and teaching them life anew, comforting them when they feel defeated or alone (while always being careful to let them free to find their own way).

There's nothing about getting rid of taints, about curses and race-changes in this concept, it's all in understanding, choice, rebirth. Lady Penitent stripped all that of value, because, apparently, choosing to change wasn't enough for Smedman/WotC, there was the need to physically change and being "cleansed" in the eyes of Corellon.

Those novels basically reduced the idea of redemption to some obsession with undoing the drow equivalent of the Original Sin (with the difference that, in this case, it is a curse inflicted on the drow by Corellon). It's magicking up things that should be up to personal choice and growth. It also amounts to "redeem for being born as you", and that's not only utter crap, it is false and it is not Eilistraee. It comes out of nowhere and makes no sense, because Eilistraee doesn't care--and has never cared--about the curse or phyisical appearance of her people.

As I mentioned above, on the contrary, she has a very positive attitude about the matter. The "curse" is now no longer such, but part of who the drow are, of their identity, and Eilistraee acts as a mother goddess to the drow as a whole race to help them flourish again—as drow--not force them to change their race. If she wanted to remove the curse, she'd just have worked towards it. However, she never made a move, she has never cared. In over 10k+ in-universe years (and 20+ years of existing in the published Realms), she never acted on that (not even a tiny bit of effort), never nudged any of her followers towards it, never spoke about that, not even once. Instead, Eilistraee embraced the curse so she would be closer to her people and show them that joy can be found even amidst suffering and despair. And rightfully so, because why should someone who just so happened to be born as a drow, be forced to give up on who they are just to be able to live decently?

Picture any drow who grew up under Lolth (and most of them are not nobles, priestesses etc... they are not nearly as bad, and they do all the bleeding), after all the abuse they receive, being finally rescued and given a new chance, only to be told that they have to be "redeemed for their drow-ness" first, or it's a no-no... that would never lead any of them to choose a different path. That's absolutely not what they need, but to be given value for who they are in their entirety, and that's what Eilistraee does--she understands their struggle and desire of a bette life.

That said, the nastiness associated with this transformation goes even beyond that. The "uncursing" was actually a violence and carried really ugly implications. Basically, those who underwent the transformation were forced to do so (the casters themselves are shown to be horrified). They were forced to give up the bodies they were born with, what they were, and the reason for that was that Corellon wouldn't accept them unless they renounced to their identity as drow. Basically, it showed them that their choice in life didn't matter, to be accepted they had to give up part of their identity—which is the exact contrary of all that Eilistraee teaches (even though, perhaps, the fact that only a small part of those drow were transformed, and the fact that Eilistraee withdrew her guidance from the spell, could be Smedman's way of sneaking in a way to control damage).

Well put, and I particularly admire your analogy to Original Sin. I wasn't even thinking that deep/metaphysical, but rather focusing on the abominable overall message that "Goodness is a few shades lighter." With inclusivity (racial/gender/orientation/etc.) in gaming being such a hot-button item right now, this book stands out even more glaringly as being shockingly tone deaf. I guess it's a good thing the trilogy is a decade old and not likely to have anyone (but us weirdos) talking about it, it's the kind of thing WotC would want to take a mulligan on.
Seravin Posted - 23 Aug 2018 : 14:38:11
My book that seems so out of place is the Night Calimsham of all places..but could have been any city and doesn't feel like it belongs in the Realms at all. Not a book I loved and not one I felt had any flavour of the Realms in it.
Hyperion Posted - 23 Aug 2018 : 11:52:42
Thanks Elaine for the detailed answer. There are many good books in the Realms novel line and I've read most of them, and I can hardly tell I disliked many of them. Even those which did not feel much "Realmsian" to me were not necessarily bad books. I also liked Once around the Realms, for the pastiche it was :) and I know my opinion is rather minoritarian.
What I want to specify here is that my comment was not to tell there are many "bad" Realms book, but rather that there are many books which are only incidentally set in the Realms, but they could have been set in any other fantasy world. They lack details on the Realms to make them good Realms book, even if they may be good book or at least "not too bad" books in other aspects.
You say they were checked for consistency and I believe it, but probably they were not checked enough for "significant use of the setting details", which is clear only for some authors, like you, and much less for others.
For example I liked much the books of the Maztica trilogy but it felt a bit like it could have placed in any other fantasy world with an european-like culture invading an aztec-like culture, and Helm in fact was depicted as quite different from other descriptions of him in Greenwood or others material. The author created a good story, but he did not have at the time an in depht knowledge of the setting, and in fact his Moonshae trilogy too was not supposed to be set in the Realms, originally.
Many Realms books do not have much Realms in them, even if they may be good books.

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