Review: The Companions by R. A. Salvatore

The Companions by R. A. Salvatore
Wizards of the Coast, 2013

The Companions mark’s the first R. A. Salvatore penned Forgotten Realms novel that I’ve read in quite some time. With the Wizards of the Coast wrapping up the playtests for the latest edition of Dungeons and Dragons the Realms has been targeted for a bit of a facelift via a major cross-media event called The Sundering. While I was at one times a voracious consumer of the Forgotten Realms novels, particularly in my teens, I have since moved on and while I’ve checked back in here and there I’ve not followed along too closely with the adventures of Drizzt Do’Urden and the Companions of Mithral Hall. While R. A. Salvatore’s The Crystal Shard was not the first  Forgotten Realms novel (that title belongs to Douglas Niles’ Darkwalker on Moonshae) it wasn’t too far behind and given the wild popularity of Drizzt and the Companions throughout the years it seem appropriate that the simply title The Companions kicks off The Sundering.

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Review: Plague of Spells by Bruce R. Cordell

A Plague of Spells by Bruce R. CordellPlague of Spells: Abolethic Sovereignty Book 1
Bruce R. Cordell
Wizards of the Coast, 2009

Plague of Spells is not a work without flaws and, for me at least, oscillated between frustrating and genuinely enthralling. The novel opens with the monk Raidon Kane as he returns home to his adopted daughter. The reader gets a brief introduction to the character, with the aid of his mother’s amulet he hunts abberant creatures; those things that D&D pilfered from the mind of H. P. Lovecraft. It isn’t long before disaster strikes as the Spellplague rips through Faerun destroying everything in its path. Well, almost anything since Raidon somehow manages to be saved, thanks in some part to his mystical amulet of the Cerulean Sign. Unfortunately it is while before we see Raidon again and we bounce back and forth between several other characters before the monk makes his appearance. The monk is drafted, almost press-ganged, into a war against a greater threat of an elder evil while at the same time he must shift through the ashes of his own past while trying to come to grips with the vastly changed face of Faerun.
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Review: Swordmage by Richard Baker

Swordmage by Richard Baker Swordmage by Richard Baker

Wizards of the Coast, 2008.

Swordmage is the first book set in the 4th Edition Forgotten Realms and there are some changes to the landscape we’re familiar with.  Most noticable, and most hotly debated on the forums around the interwebs, is the death of Mystra and the collapse of the Weave.  Apparently this resulted in the creation of Changelands (areas where other realities, planes?, poke through into our own) and the Spellplague.  I won’t say yay or nay whether this destroys/ruins the realms we know and love but it certainly makes for a darker more dangerous landscape; not necessarily a bad thing.  I will whole heartedly approve of the return of the sun god Amaunator who I’ve been a fan of since he crossed paths with my Bhaalspawn way back in Baldur’s Gate 2.  All that is merely background stuff and doesn’t impact the flow of the novel too much.

The plot of Swordmage follows Geran Hulmaster who, surprise surprise, fights wielding a blade with one hand and arcane magics with the other.  After a disastrous duel Geran, a human, is exiled from the elven city of Myth Drannor.  We catch up with as he returns home, his halfling friend and business partner Hamil in town, to investigate the murder of a boyhood friend.  Once home he finds trouble and danger in just about every corner; from undead to political strife.

Geran is a bit of do-gooder of almost paladin like proportions.  Sticking up for friends, family and those he sees as done wrong, but with a penchant for brooding over his exile from Myth Drannor and the loss of his elven love.  Which is where I have a problem.  You see, in the aforementioned duel Geran maims his opponent surprising everyone, including himself, in the process.  My first thought was magical compulsion, but nothing is said about it and the event isn’t even explored after the opening chapter.  We never see any sort of “dark side” in Geran and his confusion over events transfer far too easily to the reader.  The fact that he accepts what happened in the duel rather then questions lends a certain flatness to the character that keeps him several notches below the Realms ‘greats’.  He’s not a bad character but he is a bit to shiny for my tastes.  On the other hand I liked Hamil a lot.  Not necessarily an original character but well drawn.  His love of children, his attempted wooing of women (even those more than twice his height), and his dry humor all meshed to create an entertaining read.

I think the novel spread itself a little thin in the plot department.  We have Geran trying to solve his friends murder and navigate the political quagmire at home in the process he is investigating barrows that were broken into and encountering a powerful lich.  Side by side with that we have a Warlock Knight of Vassa uniting the monstrous denizens of the north to open up trade and, perhaps, for other nefarious purposes.  Both plots leave little room to both get aquainted with the new Realms and the new characters but I have to admit that the explosion of colliding plots in the novel’s climax made for some thrilling reading.

As the first part of a series this is an interesting novel.  The action seems fairly self-contained with only two real dangling plot threads left to continue the series.  Both of which, appropriately enough, come together in the novel’s final pages a fact which actually has me anticipating the next novel.  As far as introduction to the new Realms I wish Wizards had maybe gone a different route.  The packed plot and considerable action leave little time to stop and look around, with only scant details about what has changed in the Realms having been shared it leaves one wanting a little bit more.  It looks like most of the details will end up in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting; a fact that leaves those who prefer the novels (i.e. me) starved for information.

Mediocre characterization and the almost bloated plot are elevated by an exciting extended action sequence in the novels final chapters.  A solid C+, recommended with some reservations but still likely to appeal to hardcore Realms fans.

Review: Shadowstorm, Paul S. Kemp

Shadowstorm

Title: Shadowstorm (The Twilight War Book 2)
Author: Paul S. Kemp
Wizards of the Coast, 2007

I almost wish I hadn’t read this book. Almost, since I have to wait until September for Book 3. I hate to keep comparing Kemp’s work to other authors writing in the Realms…so I won’t. Instead I’ll say that the dark, bleak corner of Forgetton Realms carved out by Kemp reminds in tone and style of Glen Cook’s Black Company series. This is to his credit of course but Kemp has a voice all his own.  His easy managment of multiple perspectives, deft use of both 3rd and 1st person, and fascinating characters lets him stand nose to nose with some of the best fantasy writers out there.

My favorite character this time around was Abelar. His part in this story is almost a timeless one of keeping faith even in the darkest of time; but no less powerful fbecause of that. I don’t want to spoil things for anyone but I really felt for him and had a blast reading his sections. The plot gets more twisty here and, like The Empire Strikes Back, this is a novel much darker tone than the previous novel but lacks even the faint note of hope that ESB ends with. A fantastic second novel that is, in my opinion, better than the first.

Mr. Kemp I only hope that one day you found your own little corner of the fantasy universe because, as much as I do love the Forgotten Realms (and I really do), I’m anxious to see what you will do with a world wholly your own. Kudos, sir.

BTW: I noticed a link on amazon.com to a site called Four Bit Stories and I just have to say that you had me at Lovecraft. Impressions later.

Pellet Review: Shadowbred, by Paul S Kemp

Shadowbred

EDIT:  Apparently its taken about five months to realize that I mislabeled this as the wrong book.  Oops.

Shadowbred

Paul S. Kemp

Wizards of the Coast, 2006

Drizzt who?  I haven’t read a “shared world” story in a while so it was a fun distraction jumping back into the realms again.  Kemp should not be surprised in finding himself catapulted amongst the “holy trinity” of realms authors (Cunningham, Salvatore, and Greenwood).  Indeed Kemp’s writing ability and handle on what it takes to make a story truly “epic,” in my opinion, far outclasses any of the other realms author’s I’ve read.  Erevis Cale is an interesting character that oozes cool found in a book rife with political and theological manipulation set before a background of grand scale.  Interesting villains, great action, and a fast paced quagmire of a plot make this the best Realms book I’ve read since The Halfling’s Gem.  Highly recommended for fans of both the Forgotten Realms and fantasy at large.