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General I'm reading the Forgotten Realms Novels- #085 Murder in Halruaa (Mysteries 2)

Mirtek

Adventurer
But again, why?

As to badly plotted, it reminded me- even when I was reading it, of Star Wars (a bit), or else- now that I am thinking about it, the Matrix. Or Dune, or... well, any number of books in which the hero lacks family/backstory/past. heads for adventure and discovers that they have magical powers (Luke/Neo/Paul).

The bad guys attack x lots- try to kill the super-powered good guy, who gathers friends, including an aged mentor (who teaches the hero about their powers), also add in a love-interest, a comedy double-act and... well, you're pretty much there.

Cue more plotting by evil empire(s), then final attack and we're pretty much done with this book.

I can' wait to see what happens next.

I don't mean to push it too much but what do you object to? What's bad about it? What am I not seeing?

Cheers goonalan
I actually do not remember anymore why I hated it so much, just that I stopped after about a third of the first novel and then only started the triology again several years later when it had become the currently only available option for realms novels. Maybe my brain is trying to protect me by locking the exact memory away.

Overall I was never a fan of Greenwood's novel. I love his setting (although maybe mostly due to the contributions others have made to the realms) but I absolutely dislike his novels. And of them Spellfire was for me the worst of the bunch (and reading through the Elminster novels was already a huge chore for me).
 

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Character with the personality of a rock (main distinguishing feature: female) randomly develops vaguely defined superpower. Is attacked by generic Bad Guys who are destroyed by said superpower. Go somewhere, talk to some people, get attacked by more Generic Bad Guys who are destroyed by superpower. Rinse and repeat. The superpower always grows to be equal to whatever the Generic Bad Guys throw at the protagonist so there is never and sense of threat.
 

Goonalan

Adventurer
Supporter
I actually do not remember anymore why I hated it so much, just that I stopped after about a third of the first novel and then only started the triology again several years later when it had become the currently only available option for realms novels. Maybe my brain is trying to protect me by locking the exact memory away.

Overall I was never a fan of Greenwood's novel. I love his setting (although maybe mostly due to the contributions others have made to the realms) but I absolutely dislike his novels. And of them Spellfire was for me the worst of the bunch (and reading through the Elminster novels was already a huge chore for me).
I hear you brother.

For me this is the best version of Elminster (who seems to be the central character in almost all of Greenwood's books- even when he's not supposed to be) that I have read so far. Big E is the most restrained I have seen him, so far.

Although chronologically this is obviously the first FR novel version of the Big E.

I love Greenwood's novels because of their intricate knowledge of the way of the land (the Forgotten Realms), the lovely Realmsian idioms and phrases, even the way language is used- it's kinda the ultimo roleplayers/DMs wet dream. When all of your players turn up one day for the weekly game, and then speak/stay in character for the duration. The thought that the language and knowledge presented here could one day be mine, as a DM, that the players would ask and I would know all there is to know about the Realms, and to be able to talk confidently about Sembian trade routes, and politics around the Moonsea, or else to bring to life/voice the talk of a blacksmith in Shadowdale (as opposed to an artisan master smith in Waterdeep). I love that.

I love that Greenwood, seemingly more than any other author (and for obvious reasons) knows what happens in the Realms, where everything is, and what it does, and why- and better still what it sounds like. It's a window into a world I want to live in (a bit, every now and then), and to recreate- at my gaming table.

Which is a bit (a lot) why I like Drizzt, and in particular (more than Drizzt), why I really love Menzoberranzan, it's so well established (now) in my mind that I feel I could DM it, well. And, I want to...

I'm not looking forward to the Elminster specials either, although this one gave me a little hope. Calm down Big E, stop acting the giddy-goat. You're Obi-wan, not Han.

Thanks for getting back to me. I'm living and learning.

Cheers Goonalan
 

Goonalan

Adventurer
Supporter
Character with the personality of a rock (main distinguishing feature: female) randomly develops vaguely defined superpower. Is attacked by generic Bad Guys who are destroyed by said superpower. Go somewhere, talk to some people, get attacked by more Generic Bad Guys who are destroyed by superpower. Rinse and repeat. The superpower always grows to be equal to whatever the Generic Bad Guys throw at the protagonist so there is never and sense of threat.
Gotcha.

But that's a familiar tune, but... I understand your plight, certainly this novel (and quite a few of the others I have read) seem to follow that pattern.

The bad guys get tougher, the good guys get tougher still- they maintain their lead. Kinda like a lot of games of D&D I have DMed.

Cheers Goonalan
 

Gotcha.

But that's a familiar tune, but... I understand your plight, certainly this novel (and quite a few of the others I have read) seem to follow that pattern.

The bad guys get tougher, the good guys get tougher still- they maintain their lead. Kinda like a lot of games of D&D I have DMed.

Cheers Goonalan
It's the way it's done. You are right that Star Wars has a very simple story. The film could easily have been awful, it works because the story is well told. The characters are likeable, so we care about them. The good guys are clearly weaker than the bad guys, so "how will they win" is a meaningful question. The Force takes effort to learn, and Luke still needs Han to get Darth Vader of his back. If Spellfire had been Star Wars, Luke would have blasted the Death Star out of existence the instant the Millennium Falcon was caught in the tractor beam, then the rest of the run time would have been padded out by sending bigger and bigger Death Stars, implausibly large fleets of mini-Death Stars, the amassed might of every Sith ever, all of which get zapped out of existence with no effort or cleverness from the hero.
 

Seramus

Adventurer
Spellfire stood out to me as an Adventure instead of a Story. I also thought the spellfire was a bit special snowflake, especially since silverfire is also a thing. But that didn't take too much away from the fact that I could really imagine this story as a pack of PCs.
 
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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
It's been well over twenty years since I've read this book, so I don't have many clear memories of it, which I suppose is also my indictment of it, since the books that I do like I tend to go back and re-read my favorite sections at various points. But not this one.

In truth, I don't think I've ever enjoyed an Ed Greenwood novel. The man has an incredibly fertile imagination, but his characters and his pacing always leave me cold. The characters (in my opinion) all tend towards very flat archetypes, particularly because they all seem to be completely ruled by their id. Characters who fall in love will be utterly flat-out crazy in love, unable to stop themselves from proclaiming their feelings out loud every other scene. Elminster and similar "mentor" characters will all vacillate between passive-aggressively snarking at their charges' naivete and having a plan for everything that could possibly happen when an enemy attacks. Villains will wear their foibles large, either plotting against everyone around them all of the time or dedicated beyond all reason to destroying the heroes.

The pacing isn't much better. His stories tend to proceed in an extremely chaotic manner, largely because he has magic show up everywhere with very little context. His adventures will have people stumble into portals of teleportation in old caves in the middle of nowhere, utter a word and accidentally activate an old wand that they thought was just a minor magic item, or stumble into some ancient but still-active spell that suddenly changes the entire scene. And while all of that makes sense within the context of a high-fantasy world with a long history, it's the presentation that I can't stand, because none of it is contextualized within the framework of the story, or at least not very much. These things just come out of left field and boom, the characters barely have a chance to react to them before the story is rushing onward to the next scene. That might be "realistic" for how things would work in a crazy fantasy world, but a sequence of "stuff just happens (with little explanation)" doesn't make for good reading. The characters don't need to be the center of the universe, but they shouldn't seem like they're constantly being buffeted by forces that they keep blindly stumbling into either.

So yeah, not a fan of this one.
 

GreyLord

Hero
Spellfire is one of my favorites of the Forgotten Realms Novels. It's fun, it's fast moving, and it's a LOT like how a D&D game would like to be run.

A LOT better than many of the later novels (avatar trilogies...cough...hack).
 


Goonalan

Adventurer
Supporter
It's been well over twenty years since I've read this book, so I don't have many clear memories of it, which I suppose is also my indictment of it, since the books that I do like I tend to go back and re-read my favorite sections at various points. But not this one.

In truth, I don't think I've ever enjoyed an Ed Greenwood novel. The man has an incredibly fertile imagination, but his characters and his pacing always leave me cold. The characters (in my opinion) all tend towards very flat archetypes, particularly because they all seem to be completely ruled by their id. Characters who fall in love will be utterly flat-out crazy in love, unable to stop themselves from proclaiming their feelings out loud every other scene. Elminster and similar "mentor" characters will all vacillate between passive-aggressively snarking at their charges' naivete and having a plan for everything that could possibly happen when an enemy attacks. Villains will wear their foibles large, either plotting against everyone around them all of the time or dedicated beyond all reason to destroying the heroes.

The pacing isn't much better. His stories tend to proceed in an extremely chaotic manner, largely because he has magic show up everywhere with very little context. His adventures will have people stumble into portals of teleportation in old caves in the middle of nowhere, utter a word and accidentally activate an old wand that they thought was just a minor magic item, or stumble into some ancient but still-active spell that suddenly changes the entire scene. And while all of that makes sense within the context of a high-fantasy world with a long history, it's the presentation that I can't stand, because none of it is contextualized within the framework of the story, or at least not very much. These things just come out of left field and boom, the characters barely have a chance to react to them before the story is rushing onward to the next scene. That might be "realistic" for how things would work in a crazy fantasy world, but a sequence of "stuff just happens (with little explanation)" doesn't make for good reading. The characters don't need to be the center of the universe, but they shouldn't seem like they're constantly being buffeted by forces that they keep blindly stumbling into either.

So yeah, not a fan of this one.
Obviously I'm not going to make an attempt to convert you to the dark side, and I get all of the above- I've even said similar after reading other Greenwood novels.

It's becoming clear that Ed Greenwood has (at times) a little more in the way of a license to get away with things, this book is 380+ pages (from memory) and there seems otherwise to be a uniformity to these novels 312 pages, no more- no less. Mr Lowder earlier in this forum spoke about getting special permission to go over the word/page count (he was allowed approx. 330 pages, from memory).

Likewise I wouldn't want to be Ed Greenwoods ed(itor) because you're right- the randomness abounds, speak word on random bone and get transported to who knows where- chased by a Gargoyle, and then leap in to the portal... There was a short story back in one of the earlier collections (I think) in which Big E went hopping from plane to plane and it was just Gah!

But this one, as stated (imho) appears to offer less of this, and much less of the (least enjoyable) sexy Gandalf version of Big E.

I think I also said something similar with regard to the anything goes nature of the Greenwood novel, we're in (name of place) with (name of person) doing (name of task)- five lines later and we've shifted location, person and task- ten lines later, we're off again. But again, less of it here- I think, fairly linear.

But, and this is my big BUT- I'm here to find out about the Forgotten Realms, first and foremost, Ed Greenwood is making a lot of the place sound and feel real to me. In a way that many of the other novels fail (or else fail to try), possibly my one-eyed view- I want to find things to drag in to my game- places, people, words (and sayings) and anything else that will fit. Greenwood's books have that in spades, like you said- an incredibly fertile imagination.

For I don't know how long I lived (dependent on who was asking) in Greyhawk, then in some generic homebrew world (called Oerth) that was Greyhawk in all but name (and map), now... at last, I've started to make a home for myself (and my players) in the Forgotten Realms.

I'm fifty books in here, and I can still see the point of it all.

Perhaps the book just caught me by surprise, I needed a lift after the last one in Legacy of the Drow- this was it, it just swung by and I really raced through it, pleasantly gurgling to myself- as you do.

Thanks for commenting, always appreciated.

Cheers Goonalan
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
For the Drow team- Vierna's gone to Lloth, Entreri is presumed dead- so, not dead at all then, while Jarlaxle has a broken leg, and is still telling jokes- and smirking in his stupid hat. I love that Drow.
I also very much like Jarlaxle. I really think the TV Trope Xanatos Gambit should be Jarlaxle Gambit.
 


Goonalan

Adventurer
Supporter
#051 The Parched Sea by Troy Denning (Harpers 1)
Read 14/2/20 to 19/2/20


Forgotten Realms The Parched Sea (Harpers 1) a.JPG

Well, it seemed to all be over very quickly, and if you've read TE Lawrence (of Arabia, Seven Pillars of Wisdom), then there's a bunch of that here, so that'll save you some time. Lander is a blond haired, blue-eyed (patch wearing- slightly odd) (very) white Harper agent (from Sembia) who is in Anauroch trying to stop the Zhentarim from forging a trade route through the Great Desert. Note the Zhent are not here to cut deals With the natives, or at least they are until a better option comes along, at which point they either slay or abandon their previous 'local' helpers. It never works out well if you ally yourself to the Zhentarim- it's a lesson for life.

That said we don't get to see much of the story from the Zhent POV, nor do we spend much time with the big bad Wizard (leader?) of the Zhent, which is a bit of a missed opportunity. The bad guys don't get enough of a build up for me, they're hardly terrifying- briefly charming and/or despicable, but not much else.

A bit Meh!

It made me wonder what the story was actually about...

The other side of this tale then is about the role of women in the Bedine (real world- Bedu/Bedouin) tribal society, but that's not really a revelation either. Women are chattel, simple as- they have a few rights but for the most part somebody else (male) owns them. Ruha is the female Bedine hero of the piece a Wizard/Witch caster with a dollop of foresight, and bright and sassy with it. Her eventual acceptance by the Sheikhs is a bit underwhelming, although perhaps Ruha is just the thin end of the wedge and women's liberation will follow (which I doubt). Ruha, of course, is massively powerful- she has the magic, her acceptance is as much about her value as a weapon as... actually forget that, her acceptance comes about entirely because she is a weapon.

So, there's that, and perhaps this scenario would be much easier to swallow at the time the book was first published, but today... it just feels odd, and silly, and sticks in the reader's craw somewhat, or rather it stuck in my craw. The deal is then all of the Bedine are to some extent misogynists (to a greater or lesser degree) and I get the cultural/historical dilemma, which some would say extends to the present day. There are (very obviously) areas of the present day world that still have not fully grasped sexual equality, but this is fantasy fiction. The author (surely) can do what he or she pleases, Mr Denning could have perhaps written a (black/female- just ideas) Harper based-novel that had much more to say about the role of women- and their liberation, but he didn't (much). He kinda ducked the issue, maybe it wasn't as much of an issue back then in 1991, but I very much doubt that.

The thing is he got in to the debate, and said a few things that are shocking- particularly when translated to the real world, but not enough. The good guys (the Bedine) suffered in the book (for me) because they're so much less likeable. It's noticeable in this novel that there seem to be just two players- Lander and Ruha, we get to visit with a few other folk, but not often and with little depth. So, a bit odd, a tad light-weight.

Then there's the fact that as in TE Lawrence it takes an outsider, a more culturally/socially evolved (white) outsider at that, to school the (unevolved) natives in civics et al. It's a bit of a tired idea, although probably still going strong elsewhere to this day.

So, it's a bit sad-making, not overtly so, there's still some good action here- a nice fantasy story with a few magic/aberrant elements but the backdrop is a little dispiriting. I realise that this is just a story, set in a fantasy milieu, but the author and his editor/advisers (FR experts) chose (I guess) to make the Bedine the way they are, and again- this is 1991, not the enlightened 2020s.

I said at the start, it all seemed to pass by very quickly- the plot/story, diluted by various ethical debates that Lander instigates- mostly internalised. So, perhaps Mr Denning was trying in his way.

I'm really not sure about this one, I hope for better with the next.

Oh and Spoiler- Lander dies thirty pages or so before the end, Ruha is finally the hero of the hour (although she is for most of the last bit of action inhabiting the body of Lander) its only at the end that the sassy witch appears as herself and saves the day (sorta).

I don't know, I'm still a little unsure about this one, part of me thinks he (the author) had a go (raised awareness- sorta) another part of me of thinks this is was a missed opportunity.

Read.
 

toucanbuzz

Adventurer
Read the Parched Sea when I was a teen and moreso than the other Harper books, didn't have a clue at the time it wasn't too original. It was a fast read, very few dull moments, with that "against the odds" feel. Was nice to see a different part of the world than medieval Europe (albeit the white man rescuing the natives was lame even then). I Liked that Ruha wasn't a 2-D character (she still adhered to many customs) and Kadumi, while frustrating, was believable. But, otherwise, when faced with a word count on a genre novel, you get what you get.

Anyhoo, I have full confidence you'll find a lot worse reads in the Harper series, and one or two gems. And more Ed Greenwood.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I honestly can't help but think of this entire book as nothing more than Ruha's backstory for when we see her again in Crucible: The Trial of Cyric the Mad. Beyond that, it's just not a book that I find very memorable.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
In truth, I don't think I've ever enjoyed an Ed Greenwood novel. The man has an incredibly fertile imagination, but his characters and his pacing always leave me cold.
In my opinion, Greenwood is a master world-builder . . . . but a mediocre narrative storyteller (novelist). He's achieved a status akin to Gygax himself where folks put him up on a pedestal as the originator of the Realms, but his presence in the industry outweighs his talent. YMMV, of course, he has many fans. The creation of the Forgotten Realms itself (as a detailed and robust fantasy setting) is a masterpiece, even before you add in the contributions of other authors and game designers.

Out of the Greenwood novels I have read . . . all a long time ago, if memory serves . . . "Spellfire" was my favorite . . . . or rather least disliked. I couldn't finish most of the Elminster novels and struggled to finish the "Shadow of the Avatar" series. There was a time where I read EVERY official D&D novel, and I struggled to uphold that with Greenwood's stories. However, he is far from the worst novelist to have his name attached to an official D&D novel . . . . there are worse out there!
 

Goonalan

Adventurer
Supporter
I honestly can't help but think of this entire book as nothing more than Ruha's backstory for when we see her again in Crucible: The Trial of Cyric the Mad. Beyond that, it's just not a book that I find very memorable.
I can't believe I didn't even make that connection, OMG.

I'm going to have to go back and check it out, thanks for that.

Cheers Goonalan
 

Goonalan

Adventurer
Supporter
#052 Elfshadow by Elaine Cunningham (Harpers 2 + Songs & Swords 1)
Read 19/2/20 to 22/2/20


Forgotten Realms Elfshadow (Harpers 2) a.JPG

Book 2 (Harpers) and here's the thing, I guessed which way it was going to go about fifty pages in, it also very quickly became apparent that this one was going to be a talkie- lots of chatter and much less action, and at the end of it all we we're going to be unmasking an assassin. An assassin of Harpers, as opposed to a Harper assassin- the distinction is very important. Anyway, as I was saying- I guessed the bad guy too soon, and there was nothing as I read on that came to pass that made me think any different- other fish swam bye but they were all red herrings. This fact obviously took a little of the edge off the slow unfurling of the plot- which goes on a bit, let me tell you. I don't want you to think I'm a wannabe Sherlock Holmes- an Elf wandered into the narrative, said some things that were a bit off (odd, maybe) and I just got spooked, and then a light went on in my brain and said- 'that's the bad guy', and so it proved.

I even half-guessed the Moonblade, it's in the title of the novel.

So, there's Arilyn Moonblade- a sometime berserk (odd, does she have a level of Barbarian?) Half-Elf swordswoman, equipped with a fabled Moonblade (a super-enchanted (and more) ancient Elven blade). She's sent hunting for an assassin that is assassinating Harpers, Arilyn is an ex-assassin herself who sometimes contracts out (through her boss/mentor Kymil) to the Harpers, mostly retrieving lost things.

Danilo Thann is rakish, noble, half-hearted bard and foppish dandy; actually all of that's a charade- he's Khelben Blackstaff's fave nephew, and potential heir to the archmage of Waterdeep's power. Actually, what Danilo really is, is the best character in the book, he gets the best lines- the best insights, and he generally hefts around the story (and plot) when Arilyn gets in a temper/mood.

The odd couple are forced together- to fight crime and solve the riddle, who is killing Harpers, and why? Although, and this is one of the sticking points for me, there's not much action in it at all, and the fights are wholly disappointing. The finale (I hesitate to use the word) in which Arilyn battles the (sorta) assassin is unbelievably disappointing, by which I mean I like a bit of red, a bit of gore- some terror and last gasp whatever. But the melee's here (for the most part) are of the non-visceral variety, I'm not sure I should castigate myself for wanting my pound of bloody flesh, but... nah. The fighting is very disappointing.

The majority of the story is therefore spent running around Waterdeep in conversation with a number of shady (and otherwise) characters- the best of whom are Khelben Blackstaff (just 'cos he's way better than Elminster), and Elaith Craulnober (the Serpent) who sends Tony Soprano out to get him Caw-fee.

The oddity with the Serpent is his name- is there a way of saying Craulnober (Crawl-no-barr or Crawl-nob-err) that makes him sound less like a venereal disease?

So, there's plenty of bad guys, and shady folk in the mix- including another Harper who vied with the Serpent and won Arilyn's mother's love- so, we get a family reunion. It's that kind of book, even when you unpick the plot there's a mile of other stuff in here, intrigue upon intrigue.

Obviously its also one of those novels in which if everyone just told our heroes what they know right at the beginning, then... well, it'd be a much thinner book. But that's just what whodunnit's do, sorta.

So, two-hundred or so pages of he did this, and she did that, a slow sifting of the dirt to uncover present/historical truths, and if you've not figured it out with a hundred pages to go then you need to sit closer to the teacher.

Even Arilyn has figured it out a hundred or so pages before the end.

There's good stuff in here- Waterdeep and its environs is well observed, as are some of the characters that live here. There's a nice Elf super-race (think white supremacy) thing to admire, but I've always had the feeling that Elves are like that, to good to be... well, good.

There are however plenty of things to keep the reader racing on, I devoured the novel (but mostly for the scenery on reflection) in only a few days. But here's the thing- the Harpers come out of this one looking pretty shambolic, and having had their problems fixed for them- giving the heroes badges after the finale doesn't disguise the fact that the Harpers as portrayed are haphazard, at best. At worst they are a liability- for information gatherers they rely awfully on others, and as they're so disjointed the left hand doesn't know (or seemingly care) what the right hand is doing.

It's odd that Arilyn and Danilo scoot around town asking the villains pointed questions to their faces, while the Harpers (without as much as a hello to Arilyn) decide she's the assassin. I'm at book two in the Harper series and I think they're, well... idiots. That's probably not right.

Oddly, this kind of Harper fault has been highlighted before in other novels- Finder's Stone Trilogy & Avatar Series (I think).

Read.
 

Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
I remember liking the Arilyn Moonblade books, but I don't remember them very well (and it's only been a few years since I read them!). Still, they left me with the impression that Elaine Cunningham is the second best Forgotten Realms novelist (after R.A. Salvatore, who is #1).

Coincidentally, I'm currently reading another Cunningham FR book, Tangled Webs, and it's not quite as good as I remember the Arilyn books being. But I believe the Arilyn books are her best known works, at least in FR.
 


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