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D&D General I'm reading the Forgotten Realms Novels- #111 Spine of the World by RA Salvatore (Paths of Darkness 2)

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Yes, there's the general lack of cohesiveness you mentioned quite apparant with many multi author characters.

Then there's this case which is very unique since none of Salvatores characters are multi-author.

There are merely three exceptions (of which only two ever made it to print) and they all date back to a time Salvatore and TSR were in a nasty fight about his contract.

TSR wanting to demonstrate strength then took his characters and gave them to other authors. Results were Arti appearing in this series, a Drizzt short story in one of the Realms of [...] anthologies and s whole Drizzt novel (Shores of Dusk?) which was written and advertised but ultimately never published.
I'm not sure which anthology that was, though I'm a tad interested in finding out now. It's worth recalling (or is it?) that Drizzt briefly appears in Brian Thomsen's novel Once Around the Realms. I suspect it's no coincidence that Thomsen was, according to James Lowder, the reason why things got so bad between TSR and Salvatore that someone else was commissioned to write Shores of Dusk.
 

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Where can I find that? It sounds fascinating.
I think i originally found it on the Dark Sun facebook page, but it's one of those things that's been rattling around on various sites since the internet was chiselled on the wall by cavemen. I think it originally dates waaaay back to usenet.

Found them! Bear in mind there's a lot of Dark Sun-specific stuff here which is of limited relevance to a Forgotten Realms thread, but it does give you an idea about how TSR ran things in those days

I hope I'm doing this right... I hope you'll all bear with me if I'm not.

I got the list address from a list subscriber I met at a convention last year. Until then, I had no idea that there was still such interest in the Dark Sun milieu -- or that anyone was reading my Dark Sun novels so carefully. It's quite an honor; I'm very flattered.

In fairness, though, it has to be said that the three Dark Sun books were not written during TSR's finest hours. The game department and the book department communicated primarily by rumor and although I would give the book department outlines that were roughly one-third the length of the finished book with the understanding that they would be reviewed and vetted by the game department, I never once got any feedback. (When it came time to do Dragon King, I was told that if I could write the novel in next 90 days, there'd be no need to get the gaming department's approval.)

The downside of all that freedom was that if I had a question about how the milieu worked, I could never get an authoritative answer -- so I would make things up. Sometimes I'd make things up that I was sure the game department wouldn't approve -- on the assumption that in disapproving the prose they'd have to answer my questions. This strategy never failed to backfire.

This is why I'm so honored (and surprised) that some of you seem to have enjoyed the books. You all have FAR more knowledge of Athas than I have or had. My reference materials were: the first boxed set, the psionicist's handbook, Troy Denning's Prism books, the hard-cover Dragon-Kings supplement, and (for Hamanu's biography) something called "Beyond the Prism Pentad".

Anyway, as I understand them, at least a few Athasian druids consider it their purpose and destiny to restore the Athasian wastelands. Philosophically, they have a lot in common with contemporary back-to-nature and Earth-First movements. They're not particularly tolerant of folk who don't agree with them and their standard of "right" and "wrong" is governed by whether an act will tend to bring a wasted area back to natural life. The druids I wrote about avoid places like mountains because mountains don't fit into their world view (because I thought there were a lot of contradictions in the reference materials that I had regarding the 10+ Guardians into which druidic characters were supposed to evolve).

I tried to imply that Telhami and her "congregation" might be considered heretical by other druids -- I was hedging my bets because I couldn't get the game department to answer my questions about druids in general... and I had questions about druids because I knew from the beginning that I was going to write about the dilemmas of a "good" man (Pavek) in a stable, but completely corrupt, society and I felt that druids offered a better contrast to the templars than any other "priestly" variant class.

(You can probably tell that I'm not much of a gamer. I started playing D&D before it had numbers and when all the rule books could be fitted into a rather small brown box. We played head-to-head, like poker, usually one PC (with 3 NPC assistants) versus the DM. We rolled for hit points, but everything else was negotiated, and you could never be smarter or wiser than you actually were. Needless to say, my group stopped gaming about the time AD&D came on the market... we went on to put together THIEVES' WORLD.)

Hamanu's story was a true roller-coaster ride. The only guidance I got from TSR was that, when the book ended, no reader should be able to tell what, if anything, had actually changed in Urik, or Athas-proper, because the milieu was going to be completely re-constructed. (I was told that the halflings were coming back in planet-killer space ships to do war with the Dragon-kings and recreate the Blue era. I thought that had zero potential for the sort of stories I like to write and my goal, when I began plotting the book, was to keep Urik safe from the game department and put Hamanu someplace where they couldn't mess with him.)

In order for Hamanu's story to work, he had to go up against a character who was more "evil" than he was... and that meant Rajaat, which meant Ur Draxa, the Gray, and the Black. It also meant trying to reconcile the material in "Beyond the Prism Pentad" with the Pentad itself... and without TSR's help. I managed to get a few maps of Ur Draxa, but I didn't know if they were "official", so I had to flood the place with sludge and fog to create believable confusion on Hamanu's part (since he should have known how the city was laid out and how it worked). I never did figure out the Black or the Gray; fortunately, Hamanu didn't understand them either, so it wasn't difficult to create believable confusion.

After I finished Dragon King, the game department did answer most of the questions I'd raised over the preceding years... naturally they answered them their own way, which contradicted much of what I'd laid out in my three books. There's is the "official" version, but I like to think that Hamanu's was the truth... at least as he understood it.

I know the old Lion of Urik would be pleased (but not surprised) to find that Dark Sun continues to exist on the Internet.

If anyone ever has questions about why things are the way they are in the books I wrote, I'll be happy to answer them -- I only hope you won't be too disappointed by my answers.

All for now... Lynn Abbey

and
Hi,

A few basic things you need to know. First, it's been quite a while since I was day-to-day immersed in DarkSun. I've relocated twice and my notes have gotten sketchier each time, so while I'll try to answer your questions honestly, today's answers might be different from the answers you might have gotten in 1995 or 1996.

Second, the Dark Sun years were not the brightest years for TSR. things were getting increasingly desperate within the corporate structure and desperation does not foster good communication. I had some input from the gaming side of the house for Brazen Gambit and Cinnabar Shadows, but Rise and Fall was written without any consultation with the gaming department...no, let me be honest and say it was written despite the gaming department. When I had questions, I had Troy Denning's novels, the basic box, a psionics handbook, the Dragon Kings supplement, and a poorly produced supplement that was supposed to translate Troy's novels into gaming terms. For the most part, then, I was on my own for the world building and making things up as I went. (The actual Rise and Fall deal was that if I could produce the book in less than nine weeks then the book department could bring it out without ever consulting the gaming department...it was part of a destructive civil war within TSR.)

So, your basic assumption -- that I was aware of what the GAMING department was doing with Dark Sun -- is wrong, especially for Rise and Fall. I never did fully grasp the difference between psionics and sorcery as the Sorcerer-kings manipulated them. I strove to have mechanics that were internally consistent for my own plots and (because the gaming department was never going to see the final manuscript) didn't worry over much about how they related to the game (which, I'd been told, was being overhauled into an SF setting with large numbers of technologically-advanced halflings coming back to Athas from their native planet...a scenario I found appalling.)

Now, as for the way Hamanu (and by extension the other wildly powerful npcs of the setting) used sorcery...as best I can recall, I messed around with the idea of obsidian with the idea that the dragon metamorphosis created living obsidian, which was, in and of itself, fuel for sorcery. Hamanu could suck the life out of anything, but usually he chose to suck the life out of himself (he was casually suicidal, among other things). Of course, the more he used himself as the fuel for sorcery, the further he progressed toward the mindlessness of a full-fledged dragon. Sorcery for Hamanu is still a lose-lose proposition: he could destroy himself or he could wreck Urik.

I'm not claiming that this structure works for the game, but it worked for the novels, and that's all I needed to care about. I truly expected the halflings-as-uber-aliens scenario to destroy the Dark Sun community and was just trying to finish Urik's story before that happened.

As to what happened to Sadira -- remember I was playing around with the powers of obsidian and the notion that Hamanu's "real" skeleton was being slowly converted to living obsidian. Hamanu thought the folks from Tyr were the greatest (and most dangerous) fools ever hatched because they confined Rajaat (a proto dragon) in lava which is nothing but potential obsidian, thereby giving Rajaat access to a virtually unlimited amount of sorcerous fuel. Hamanu and I also believed that Sadira didn't understand HOW her darkling magic worked. The way we understood it, when Sadira cloaked herself in shadow, she was effectively "borrowing" the same power that Rajaat had harnessed to make living obsidian. When Sadira and Hamanu confronted each other, and she attempted to use her "power" she was, unbeknownst to her, attempting to draw on the very fuel contained within Hamanu's living obsidian bones...but Hamanu was an expert at denying and/or manipulating the use of that power. You could think of it as a feedback loop -- she was sucking power out of him, he had a conscious thought to reverse the process and sucked the power out of her instead. The only reason he didn't reduce her to ash was that he still hoped she would ally Tyr with Urik.

I honestly don't know whether what I did should be considered a "godlike" power. To me, it arose naturally from my initial "messing around" with living obsidian, which I don't think was ever a part of the Dark Sun canon, but which I needed to make my story work. Actually, I needed a lot to make my story work. I don't think that the DarkSun creators really thought through the mechanics of the Sorcerer-kings. As a group they were more like gods or natural (albeit willful and malevolent) forces in the world and the deeper the creators got into the mechanics they more they (like me) had to fudge things.

I'm secretly pleased, though, that Rise and Fall found a receptive audience in the Dark Sun community, since it was such a subversive, under-the-radar project. It remains one of my favorite books -- having Hamanu in my head day and night for nine weeks was a truly life-changing experience -- whenever the going gets rough, I drop into his mind set and plow forward.

I hope some of what I written helps you and the other regenerators... good luck. (And if you're ever bored, you might check out the THIEVES' WORLD books formerly from ACE and currently being published by TOR. After all, the only reason I got started in Dark Sun was because the TSR editors assured me I could write the Athasian milieu because it was THIEVES' WORLD with elves.)

Thanks for writing...

Lynn Abbey
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I think i originally found it on the Dark Sun facebook page, but it's one of those things that's been rattling around on various sites since the internet was chiselled on the wall by cavemen. I think it originally dates waaaay back to usenet.

Found them! Bear in mind there's a lot of Dark Sun-specific stuff here which is of limited relevance to a Forgotten Realms thread, but it does give you an idea about how TSR ran things in those days
Wow...that's quite a lot to take in! I'd say more, but as you noted, I don't want to derail things (further) with a long Dark Sun tangent. Thanks for reposting those!
 

Mirtek

Adventurer
I'm not sure which anthology that was, though I'm a tad interested in finding out now. It's worth recalling (or is it?) that Drizzt briefly appears in Brian Thomsen's novel Once Around the Realms. I suspect it's no coincidence that Thomsen was, according to James Lowder, the reason why things got so bad between TSR and Salvatore that someone else was commissioned to write Shores of Dusk.
I'm not sure which anthology that was, though I'm a tad interested in finding out now. It's worth recalling (or is it?) that Drizzt briefly appears in Brian Thomsen's novel Once Around the Realms. I suspect it's no coincidence that Thomsen was, according to James Lowder, the reason why things got so bad between TSR and Salvatore that someone else was commissioned to write Shores of Dusk.
Good catch with Once Around the Realms. Didn't remember that.

The short story is "The Fires of Narbondel" by Mark Anthony. Mark was also the one tasked with writing a whole Drizzt novel, but then TSR and Salavatore came to an agreement and no other author was then allowed to touch his characters
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#103 The Lost Library of Cormanthyr by Mel Odom (Lost Empires 1)
Read 27/10/20 to 30/10/20


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And it's a corker, and what a relief after the last series- although, fingers-crossed the others in this series can get close to this one.

There's a ranger (Baylee), but he's not a drow, and he has a good heart- and the skills to pay the bills, likewise his wizard mentor (Golsway) is too cool for school, and just ask anyone they'll all tell what wonderful people the pair are.

The ranger is Indiana Jones, only with an Azymuth Bat (Xuxa) and she's sooooo cool- and with a telepathic bond with our hero ranger.

There are Waterdeep watch style detectives- and they're cool too, especially Cordyan- a strong female that doesn't have to use sex to sell her authority, that's not to say she's not attractive. But y'know- smart first, which is switch up for some of these novels.

There's a lich (Shallowsoul), and he's bad to the bone; there's a drow (Krystarn)- and she's a deceiver, and a bunch of hobgoblins with a semi-cool chief.

The lost library is the treasure, and it's a far from straight chase to the end.

There are cool places to visit, cool secondary and subsidiary characters (including pirates- I love a good pirate); there are great scenes- some of which I am going to steal- the next time my PCs are investigating a wreck I'm going to have a pod of whales turn up and scoop up the remains of the sunken ship.

The story just works, there are no spare parts- a little marking time but all to good intention- we're building a nice guy here, one that the reader is going to want to win. He's a bit bond- with his various groovy skills and specialist tools- including the above mentioned Xuxa, who can read minds!

It's just a very well written book, a great hook, great character development and rising tension and a beautifully thought out ending- I am gagging to see if there's a sequel to this one in the series, even if it is written by someone else- please be as good as this one.

Probably in the top 10 of the 100 or so I've read so far.

Mel Odom, I salute you.

Great work.

Read!

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#104 Faces of Deception by Troy Denning (Lost Empires 2)
Read 1/11/20 to 3/11/20


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Book 2- and, well- it's nowhere near as good as the last one, it's okay- and I whizzed through it in only three days so I was keen to see how it all worked out.

We're back in the Utter East (which still strikes me as a nearly clever buy mostly dumb name for the place). Sune (Goddess of Beauty) has charged Atreus (a would-be adherent, pandered to by the church because he has money) to go on a quest to recover from the fountain of yadda-yadda. Atreus hit every branch on the way down when he fell out of the ugly tree- he was raised by Ogres, which is a switch on the usual.

Along for the ride are Yago (Atreus' Ogre bodyguard/father- you decide), Rishi (a Mar sometime villain) and towards the back half Seema- beautiful and beguiling (and the key to their success, sorta).

So the gang have to get to Langdarma, the hidden unspoilt valley beyond the glaciers (Tibet/Nepal). I guess some of my issues with the book are the fact that the good guys have to invent their enemies along the way- the Queen of wherever it is Atreus lands is not keen on him making the quest (why is a bit airy fairy) and so soldiers are despatched to chase the gang down- when out gang escape the city. There's a 100 or so page section in which our guys face down the soldiers in a marsh, followed by a confrontation with a Devil-lead slave ship, at which point the gang rescue Seema.

Tarch, the devil, is the best NPC in this- boy is he hard to kill, for which I really like him, the odd thing is he talks like he's from the bayous around N'Orleans (forgive me if that's incorrect, I'm not from the US) I just remember him calling one of our guys 'Bubber', which probably should be written as bubba. But again, not my area of expertise.

But my point is that without these two random-ish encounters then there'd be a lot less of the book, and the soldiers hang around for quite a while, and add very little to the story- except maybe that Atreus has to dump his strongbox full of gold.

But we get to Langdarma, and all is suitably paradise-like = dirt poor, but 'appy.

Atreus nearly learns to trust but not quite, Seema gives up everything- just odd, Yago is bemused by much of the finale (and Atreus' chop-changing his mind) and the Ogre pays the ultimate price. While Rishi turns out to be a nasty piece of work... I don't know quite what to tell you, it's just all a little odd at the end. It's like the author was aiming for ending A and at some point decided that ending B was slightly better, and then ended up writing ending C. Which doesn't quite leave the reader very satisfied, there was a bit of... is that it? Is there a sequel?

A bit disappointing- a lot of journey, most of it okay but y'know repetitive in places, nice exploration- but not a place my PCs are ever going to visit; like the devil- Tarch... and then the end.

Okay, I guess.

Read.

Stay safe and well.
 

TSR did a few quasi-series like Lost Empires around the same time - multiple books written around a vaguely common theme but all actually standalone, not trilogies, though they were all promoted as 'Lost Empire Book 2' or whatever. My guess is that it's part because they realised at this point how terrible they were at continuity, and maybe partly because it let them float characters in single novels to see if they got a following before committing the resources for a trilogy, the same way the Harpers books spawned the very successful Arilyn/Danilo series. Most of them weren;t too memorable. Lost Empires (couple of good ones), the Priests, the Rogues, the Cities, the Nobles (couple of good ones here too), etc etc.

Running in parallel they were also starting to do fairly long pre-planned epic series like Sembia and War of the Spider Queen, where the story DID follow over multiple books but each book was written by a different author. I think Double Diamond was a dry run for this (not a terrible successful one, but i think that's mostly because you got very little book for your $ back then), though i think Sembia was happening at roughly the same time. I'd always assumed this was a reaction to the contract dispute they had with Salvatore and the mess about Shores of Dusk - they were trying for a novel-writing model that made authors more interchangeable and less powerful.
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#105 Star of Cusrah by Clayton Emery (Lost Empires 3)
Read 4/11/20 to 9/11/20


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Book 3- and another good one, I'm beginning to like this series, not that they are (as explained above) in anyway connected, apart from the slow reveal of an ancient and lost kingdom in all of its glory.

Cursrah, gets a go in this novel, and the conceit is three guys (let's call them adventurers) discover the aforementioned ancient city/palace/temple, meet a mummy (and lots of other stuff) and then get captured and hounded by half-ogres, bandits and other assorted reprobates. While at the same time one of their number wearing a magical circlet gets to to watch the the princess, back in the ancient past when Cursrah was really something, live her life.

What's that, the princess has two very close male friends, a roguish fellow and a stout warrior.

But what's that the adventuring party in the present contains a princess (actually an heir to a slaving concern) and her two friends- a roguish fellow and a stout... but you're there already.

So, a semi-legitimate way to work the two stories as one- to connect them, but also to set up for the inevitable overlap when we get to discover who exactly is inside the mummy's bandages.

It is of course exactly who you expected it to be.

But here's the thing- the action in the past is excellent, edifying and interesting- if you want to read about how to deconstruct a city/empire/regency then this is the book for you, seriously- in-game this would be such a great thing to get the PCs mixed up in.

Oh, and Cursrah is Egyptian-ish, but these are transferable skills the author is teaching us.

Inevitably the past gets to meet the future, and vice-versa- and that's all good too, a nice wrap up- semi-convincing, in retrospect employing the person who most hates the royal family to serve as their protector in the afterlife, all the way through to the dawning of the new age of Cursrah.

Not the best plan, clearly no lawyers were involved in this decision.

You'd have though a kingdom used to doing deals with Djinni would check the small print first.

So, nice PCs- the latter mob a small adventuring party, not neophyte but nicely low to mid level, that's nice- and a change up.

Nice monsters, traps and effects.

No big evil dude, and probably all the better for it.

Very nice info that's going to get recycled.

Read- top work, just a good/great little story- nice device.
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#106 The Nether Scroll by Lynn Abbey (Lost Empires 4)
Read 12/11/20 to 17/11/20


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Book 4- and another good one, perhaps not as good as number two and three but the story is slightly let down at the end by the deus ex machina- the mind flayers to the rescue, which in itself is pretty cool, but still a bit of a gyp.

Also the Netherese Artefact- the Nether Scroll, is that the key to a Lost Empire referred to in the series title- if so, that's tenuous. The Netherese have been explored elsewhere in these books, and in much greater depth, although perhaps the Lost Empire here is Dekanter. Mebs.

I'm just not sure, as I say- it just felt very tenuous, and not that informative- there are no great revelations.

So, some of the good stuff in here- the four/three adventurers, their motivations and their backstories- they're all broken, or at least the ones we get to peer closely at. I like broken, it's in my realm of understanding, give me anti-heroes every time.

Dru is cool, and it's the first Wizard protagonist that I've really rooted for, Dru will do. Also I like the mechanics for the mage taking on his spells- nice! Likewise Rozt'a is a strong female character with an in-yer-face attitude- she's her own woman, and the (not so) strange ménage-a-trois in the middle of this is likewise slightly ahead of its time- certainly for the FR novels I've read so far. It's a little more adult this one. Tiep, now that lad's broken- and again nice insights as to how the Zhent get their claws in. Point of fact the Zhent in this one come out as semi-friendly mobsters, which I also like.

Of greater cool is the Alhoon, I am having him for my game- the entire set-up in Dekanter is suitably terrifying, with the 'egg' and the feral (post-apocalyptic) goblins. I liked them too.

It seems there's a lot to like.

And I wanted to like Sheemzher, I really did- and there are bits of me that still think- yeah, that's what a goblin is like, or else can be like- but I keep picturing him as some sort of dirty leprechaun in my head- with a spear, and buckles on his shoes. Perhaps it's just me but I just didn't believe him, he just seemed to clean, to neat, to... good. Like a filthy Ewok.

And again, the story goes a bit woolly towards the end, after the surprise mind flayer invasion it all just goes easy- like an explanation.

The action on the way to and in Dekanter is the good stuff, particularly the latter, the first chunk of the text is a bit slow- there's a lot (a lot) of set up before we get into the action.

Read.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I remember wanting to read this one, but never finding the opportunity to, a situation that unfortunately continues to this day. While I have mixed feelings about Lynn Abbey's work (though finding out about what she had to put up with while writing the Dark Sun novels has made me reevaluate that opinion quite a bit), the Nether Scrolls are central to how magic developed in the Realms, which makes them artifacts of exceptional note. Hence my continued interest in finding out how they come into play in this novel.
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#107 Evermeet: Island of the Elves by Elaine Cunningham
Read 22/11/20 to 01/12/20


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It's a cracker, and let me say this before we get going- I don't like Elves, as a rule- as daft as that sounds, I think LotR ruined them for me- too neat, too nice, too good at everything. But hey, here they are and they're nasty bastards co-mingled with stoic sacrifice everything dear to them to get the goal heroes. Also... dark, like... well, the Drow- obvious really when you write it but before this book, well- I figured there were mostly lone examples in other books of bad guy elves, but mostly that was to do with xenophobia and epic hubris, here... they're all of that but also heroes and, well... scum. Worse still, hyper-intelligent scum.

The book has also filled in lots of gaps, not that I have remembered everything that I have read so far, but I was always bumping into feint memories from previous novels- it joins the dots, and Evermeet has become real, and a place for me. Likewise because we start with the pantheon then the elven gods, and their various foibles have also become a little clearer, although there's not masses of info here.

But the stories, vignettes that connect under the aegis of Danilo Thann's research, they're all pretty cool- it's an opportunity for the author (and she's a great writer) to mostly just skip the middle part of the story, a bit of exposition- or else a connect to the last/previous story, and then its action all the way. It's epic, and I don't usually dig epic as much as I do four or five anti-heroes swinging and spelling to stay alive in the depths of the unknown- that's my bag, mostly. But, most times, I was gripped- dragon-riders, eagle-riders, a spelljammer ship/small fleet, it's a grab-bag of goodies.

Incredibly well written, the emotional bits are just that, the villains are pantomime tie-the-damsel-to-the-train-track complete with dastardly moustache- these guys are proper cold-calculating villains (see Drow), and the heroes are super-cool. Damn! I really am getting to like Elves.

So, it's a long book, and it dips and sways- some concentrated multi-chapter stories, other stuff a little throwaway- but not in a terrible way, it never gets dull- there's no middle section, it just set up and then bring on the intrigue and/or terror.

A cracker.

Read.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers Goonalan.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I'm having a hard time remembering why I didn't like this, but I distinctly recall that I didn't. Or at least, I didn't like what little I read, because I know I got through at least one or two chapters (I distinctly recall the opening scene where the invasion ships are sailing, and when they start to panic at the sight of Evermeet's defenses, a mysterious cloaked figure emerges and tells them to relax, because he has a certain hostage) and then put it down. And I'll admit that opening scene certainly sounds cool in recollection, so I'm not sure why I read it and said "meh." I want to say that there's something about Cunningham's writing that put me off (as I've mentioned before), but I'm not certain now.

Having said that, I think that this was the book that laid the seeds (or at least, explicitly confirmed them) for a lot of dissatisfaction between how elves in the Realms (and possibly most of D&D as a whole) were described versus how they were portrayed. While I'm less than enthusiastic about the push to decouple alignment from generalized presentations of demihumans/humanoids, I can admit that what's in this novel makes a good case for doing so.

Simply put, these elves don't come across as the Chaotic Good people we're told elves are.

Your bog-standard D&D elves are described as being, essentially, people who live to appreciate the sublime beauty of an art being taken to its apex. Uncaring of material gains or the pursuit of power (even though they come into both as unintended consequences of their pursuits), they instead find fulfillment in the appreciation of what most delights their senses. They're the ultimate aesthetes, in other words, and their interactions with the grimier practicalities of life are largely the consequences of other, less enlightened races intruding upon their domains. It's easy to see that as them being Chaotic Good exemplars.

However, the presentation of elves in Evermeet and similar works puts a markedly different spin on them. Here, the "race in decline" theme is sharply highlighted, as is the effect that it's having on elven society. While not presented as being universal, there's a highly defensive mindset present in elven culture now, a sense of "we've already lost so much, we have to protect what's left!" that's oftentimes taken to extremes, particularly since this sense of loss is typically attributed directly to the actions of other races. The result is that traditionalism, isolationism, prejudice, and sometimes even outright malice seem to be near-essential components of elven society. Needless to say, that's a hardcore Lawful Neutral at best, Lawful Evil at worst.

All of which is to say, I should probably go back and give this book another chance at some point.
 
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Mirtek

Adventurer
Having said that, I think that this was the book that laid the seeds (or at least, explicitly confirmed them) for a lot of dissatisfaction between how elves in the Realms (and possibly most of D&D as a whole) were described versus how they were portrayed. While I'm less than enthusiastic about the push to decouple alignment from generalized presentations of demihumans/humanoids, I can admit that what's in this novel makes a good case for doing so.

Simply put, these elves don't come across as the Chaotic Good people we're told elves are.

Your bog-standard D&D elves are described as being, essentially, people who live to appreciate the sublime beauty of an art being taken to its apex. Uncaring of material gains or the pursuit of power (even though they come into both as unintended consequences of their pursuits), they instead find fulfillment in the appreciation of what most delights their senses. They're the ultimate aesthetes, in other words, and their interactions with the grimier practicalities of life are largely the consequences of other, less enlightened races intruding upon their domains. It's easy to see that as them being Chaotic Good exemplars.

However, the presentation of elves in Evermeet and similar works puts a markedly different spin on them. Here, the "race in decline" theme is sharply highlighted, as is the effect that it's having on elven society. While not presented as being universal, there's a highly defensive mindset present in elven culture now, a sense of "we've already lost so much, we have to protect what's left!" that's oftentimes taken to extremes, particularly since this sense of loss is typically attributed directly to the actions of other races. The result is that traditionalism, isolationism, prejudice, and sometimes even outright malice seem to be near-essential components of elven society. Needless to say, that's a hardcore Lawful Neutral at best, Lawful Evil at worst.

All of which is to say, I should probably go back and give this book another chance at some point.
It's just the Sun Elves. And not only in this novel but in a lot of novels dealing with elves. The way they always act in the novels makes you think they need their long lifespan to make up for the time they lose every morning due to being unable to decide whether to wear their clan robes or their SS uniforms. They probably did not side with Lolth only because they too busy torturing some N-Tel-Quess (elven for "not-people" aka anyone that is not an elf) and thus missed the deadline to enlist and were stuck with Corellon's side. There also never has been an sun elf that was deemed worthy to wield a moonblad. Yes among their entire race, not a single one, go figure

Then there are the moon elves which are always portrayed at the good elves.
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#108 Realms of Mystery Anthology Ed. Philip Athans
Read 4/12/20 to 11/12/20


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These Realms of... books are really starting to feel like the Christmas pay-day, X number of authors rattle off around thirty pages and then see if it sells. Were they for the Christmas market? Or some equivalency?

Or was it just a run out for a few pros, and a step up into the limelight for some of the young guns on the way up, is that the deal?

There's good and bad in this one, but that's always going to be the case, and almost no author can shine that brightly in just under thirty pages, it can be done, but... not here, much.

Speaking with the Dead by Elaine Cunningham- Danilo Thann & Elaith Craulnober, start the mystery- or rather Danilo does detective with Elaith's reputation proceeds him. But- it's a set up, all fairly obvious (if not the solution then the situation) but it works- and its well written. I like the idea of the sunset boulevard for the pair as they head off hand-in-hand proclaiming their new found love for each other as they skip towards the future.

A Walk in the Snow by Dave Gross- sensitive and well-written, Ogden's a character I could get to like. And Portnoy too- the last will and testament of Cole the Wizard, remember him from right back at the beginning. Again, a fair mystery- well detectived out. It works, but a bit daft towards the end- or else the familiar ending (see what I did there).

The Rose Window by Monte Cook- a ten page mystery tale about a window, with a mystery ending.

The Club Rules by James Lowder- Artus Cimber plays detective/lawyer, he's good- as is Uther. A pantomime villain and a fair/foul mystery explained. It works.

Thieves' Justice by Mary H. Herbert- Teza the horse thief solves a mystery to save her friend. Rasheman sounds like a great place, I'd like to read a few more books set there. A brute gets his comeuppance. It works, just.

Ekhar Lorrent: Gnome Detective by Steven Brown- Just no.

The Devil and Tertius Wands by Jeff Grubb- See above.

H by Richard Lee Byers- Nine little, eight little, seven little... indians. The party members keep on dying. I like the monster, the reveal- not so keen on the H for hand, like anyone is going to get that.

Strange Bedfellows by Keith Francis Strohm- There's some things to like, but- it's just a bit easy, a bit- meh. Morgrim's the star of the show, although hard to believe.

Whence the Song of Steel by J. Robert King- Two opera singer rivals and a sword with a voice, and now I've told you that the mystery is over.

An Unusual Suspect by Brian M. Thompson- Nope.

Darkly, Through a Glass of Ale by Peter Archer- The Utter East sounds like a terrible place- don't go there, and don't write about it.

Lyanaelle by Thomas M. Reid- Lyanaelle graduates, solves the mystery and bests he master. It works, but... I don't know, something's missing.

The Grinning Ghost of Taverton Hall by Ed Greenwood- Alright, better than a lot of his others, are all Ed Greenwood's alter egos just odd little men blessed with either genius, the luck of the gods, or else an author's insight? There's a bit of me like this kind of thing- not kicking too hard, but too much of it- the omniscient hero, becomes too much far too quickly.

Off to read a proper book.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers Goonalan
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#109 The Shadow Stone by Richard Baker
Read 21/12/20 to 28/12/20


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And I kinda liked this one, although in places it seemed the author was scratching around for some of the bits and pieces that make the reader feel like their in Faerun, I seem to remember an odd moment with a Leucrotta (although could just have been something I ate), it's as if the author didn't quite know what a Leucrotta was/is, again this may just be my poor memory.

It's good however because it's a different place, Cimbar and the region- I don't remember being there before on my wander (so far) through the Realms. Aeron seemed suitably anti-hero, and I really liked his taciturn Elven Wizard Master, Fineghal. I'm going to steal this guy for my own game- he's pithy, earthy/woody- suitably druidy, but still very much a Mage.

I like the fact that we don't seem to see anything but Aeron in action, or in thought, very rarely do we see anything that our hero doesn't see. That makes what happens more immediate, however- that said, the story is suitably epic- not in its use of magic (but it gets there) but in the fact that we're with Aeron for a lot of his growing up. Also, of course, we watch him get good at what he does, and learn to make better decisions.

In truth I thought he was would die in the attempt in this one, he looks- in my mind's eye, pretty dark and menacing- bound to give his life to save the world (without anyone much knowing anything about it, the unrecorded hero). But, he survives- and it's a lame happy ever after (with brooding and kisses) in the end.

I also enjoyed the visit to the Shadow Realm, I've read enough elsewhere- and DMed on the plane previously, but it's good to get another perspective to add to the mind's eye.

The villains are bullying menacing, and camp menacing- I think that the author should probably have switched the order, however the villains are also believable- as in not possessed of infinite resources, (obviously) fallible, but at the same time- brooding and nasty. A bit pantomime but... that's to be expected, mostly.

So, no great shakes but a good story well told, and we stick with our guy through thick and thin. Nice.

Read.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan.
 


Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I've mentioned before that it's an open secret that Rich Baker originally wrote this as a Birthright novel. Unfortunately, it was ready to go just as TSR was being acquired by WotC, who shuttered that setting as part of their general streamlining of TSR's multiplicity of campaign worlds. Rather than being released for free online (which is what happened to Baker's other Birthright novel, The Falcon and the Wolf), it was reworked into a Forgotten Realms novel.

Personally, I don't recall much of the novel now (surprise, surprise), since it's been twenty years or so since I read it. Aeron is very clearly Cerilia's High Mage Aelies, but beyond that what comes through most clearly is that the "Shadow Plane" in this novel is Birthright's Shadow World, a menacing twilight realm acts as a dark parallel to the mortal world. As much as that sounds like the actual Plane of Shadow (or Demi-plane of Shadow, which is what it was prior to Third Edition), it's not; Planescape's A Guide to the Ethereal Plane (affiliate link) made it clear that, at least in AD&D 2E terms, the Shadow World occupied the space where Border Ethereal would normally be for Aebrynis's crystal sphere (Aebrynis being the planet, and Cerilia the continent, on which the Birthright campaign is set).

This novel is supposed to tell the story about how the Shadow World wasn't always the twisted realm it is now, once being a less malevolent faerie realm; one still alien, but less overtly hostile; and long before that, they were the same world, eventually being ruptured in twain (which ironically evokes the "Abeir/Toril" split that recent editions have played up for the Forgotten Realms, and of which there's no sign in the FR-reworking of this novel). Ironically, Birthright fans would get more of this in the Blood Spawn: Creatures of Light and Shadow book, a Birthright-specific bestiary which also got the axe after WotC acquired TSR and was subsequently released online.

As for how well this fits in with Faerun's relationship to the Shadow Plane and similar creatures (such as the shadevari), I can't exactly recall off the top of my head, but my impression is that it's something of a square peg in a round hole, and that this novel has been quietly ignored by subsequent canon, since everyone in the know knows that it's not really part of it. I suppose I should be able to look past that and try and enjoy the story for what it is, but when a large part of what I try to take away from these books is how well they help me understand the wider world, knowing that this one doesn't really have anything to offer in that regard puts a damper on my enthusiasm for it.
 
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Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#110 The Silent Blade by RA Salvatore (Paths Darkness 1)
Read 2/1/21


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Well, I picked it up and read the first five to ten pages while waiting for the alarm to go off yesterday morning- to start the day. Then post alarm and the present lockdown version of food shopping it was back home, and back to the book- after jobs.

Then more jobs to do, but always back to the book- I finished the novel at approx. 10 PM the same day- what does that tell you/me. It's not unputdownable, but it is in comparison to a lot that has passed this way previously.

It's not a work of genius, but it has got great characters that I am sooooo routing for, particularly Artemis Entreri, and every time I meet Jarlaxle I learn to love him a little more, and Bruenor, and Catti, and Regis, and Wulfgar, and... the other one.

It's the greatest hits here, or else the characters that have (so far) made the biggest impression upon me, there may be dozens of reasons for this- I read about these guys pretty much at the start of my journey, they're all nicely rounded (although they have of course become archetypes). They're interesting- suitably thoughtful, when the need arises, suitable anti-hero, and... well, you know all about these guys probably so I'll let you finish this sentence.

The story just works, the chatter and action is great- it's got a good amount of geography and plenty of room for me to infer what cool places on the Sword Coast are like (a bit). The novel doesn't seem to have try hard to fit in with Faerun, and some of the others do, it simply belongs there. The author knows his onions, forgive me an English expression- he knows what he is writing about, the canon- or else he's happy to write his own canon.

It all just works, even the daft(-ish) last minute teleport in to save Regis' life and in the process steel the Crystal Shard away. Even then the author is smart enough to tell the reader all of the mistakes that the bad guys are making with their roleplay. Salvatore is smart enough to know that this is the weakest link, the moment that the good guys get conned- and we need to believe this bit, or else to be able to explain it away to ourselves. So, he points out the errors that on a better day Drizzt and his companions could/would spot, and be much more suspicious of.

I liked that bit a lot.

Here's what happened, here's what our heroes should have noticed- but in the moment their need was too great, Regis was dying.

I liked that this seemed opportunistic, that even the bad guys here are on the blag, making things up as they go along- with good research but all the same, they're winging it.

Then there's Wulfgar, who I have disliked in the past for all of his macho bullshit and his failure to integrate with the real world (at times). Here he's forlorn, despicable and desperate, bugger- I'm starting to feel sorry for the big lug. Damn you Bob Salvatore.

There's more good stuff however- the Crystal Shard calling the bad guys too it, I'm using this in my campaign- I can't wait to hear my PCs around the VTT trying to figure out why it is a steady number of semi-evil randoms keep attacking them. There's a nice bit of non-pirate ship action, Catti comes alive. Lots of (maybe a dozen) other great NPCs that get walk-ons or just ten lines here that are just great- Druzil, the Imp is back. The drow wizard and psionicist- the pair are great, they'd make a wonderful enemy tag team just on their own, with a maybe a bunch of mooks to do the dirty work for them. I really like Luskan, we're going there.

What I'm trying to say, I think, is Salvatore starts way closer to the finishing line, or else the line above which it becomes easy for the reader to know and appreciate that s/he is learning something here- seeing the Realms (and its inhabitants) in all of its technicolour glory. If I just had the books of Salvatore to go on then I'd probably have enough of Faerun to play with for a campaign or two. Enough places that fit into my mind's eye version of the realms, my D&D game version, enough places, and people and stratagems to make a great adventure or thirty.

I liked this one a lot.

Oh, and the italicized Drizzt words of wisdom seem even better here, who knows why- it's like a great episode of Kung-Fu (or whatever it was called) with David Carradine, wandering the world and learning lessons. A bit of pop-psychology rubbing against some emotional/philosophical explanation for what's going on in the here and now- with Drizzt and his companions. The drow just seems a whole lot more sure of himself, and the world, he's graduated (somehow) and doesn't need to stand in the spotlight all the while.

Yeah, it just works.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
#110 The Silent Blade by RA Salvatore (Paths Darkness 1)
Read 2/1/21


View attachment 130849

Well, I picked it up and read the first five to ten pages while waiting for the alarm to go off yesterday morning- to start the day. Then post alarm and the present lockdown version of food shopping it was back home, and back to the book- after jobs.

Then more jobs to do, but always back to the book- I finished the novel at approx. 10 PM the same day- what does that tell you/me. It's not unputdownable, but it is in comparison to a lot that has passed this way previously.

It's not a work of genius, but it has got great characters that I am sooooo routing for, particularly Artemis Entreri, and every time I meet Jarlaxle I learn to love him a little more, and Bruenor, and Catti, and Regis, and Wulfgar, and... the other one.

It's the greatest hits here, or else the characters that have (so far) made the biggest impression upon me, there may be dozens of reasons for this- I read about these guys pretty much at the start of my journey, they're all nicely rounded (although they have of course become archetypes). They're interesting- suitably thoughtful, when the need arises, suitable anti-hero, and... well, you know all about these guys probably so I'll let you finish this sentence.

The story just works, the chatter and action is great- it's got a good amount of geography and plenty of room for me to infer what cool places on the Sword Coast are like (a bit). The novel doesn't seem to have try hard to fit in with Faerun, and some of the others do, it simply belongs there. The author knows his onions, forgive me an English expression- he knows what he is writing about, the canon- or else he's happy to write his own canon.

It all just works, even the daft(-ish) last minute teleport in to save Regis' life and in the process steel the Crystal Shard away. Even then the author is smart enough to tell the reader all of the mistakes that the bad guys are making with their roleplay. Salvatore is smart enough to know that this is the weakest link, the moment that the good guys get conned- and we need to believe this bit, or else to be able to explain it away to ourselves. So, he points out the errors that on a better day Drizzt and his companions could/would spot, and be much more suspicious of.

I liked that bit a lot.

Here's what happened, here's what our heroes should have noticed- but in the moment their need was too great, Regis was dying.

I liked that this seemed opportunistic, that even the bad guys here are on the blag, making things up as they go along- with good research but all the same, they're winging it.

Then there's Wulfgar, who I have disliked in the past for all of his macho bullshit and his failure to integrate with the real world (at times). Here he's forlorn, despicable and desperate, bugger- I'm starting to feel sorry for the big lug. Damn you Bob Salvatore.

There's more good stuff however- the Crystal Shard calling the bad guys too it, I'm using this in my campaign- I can't wait to hear my PCs around the VTT trying to figure out why it is a steady number of semi-evil randoms keep attacking them. There's a nice bit of non-pirate ship action, Catti comes alive. Lots of (maybe a dozen) other great NPCs that get walk-ons or just ten lines here that are just great- Druzil, the Imp is back. The drow wizard and psionicist- the pair are great, they'd make a wonderful enemy tag team just on their own, with a maybe a bunch of mooks to do the dirty work for them. I really like Luskan, we're going there.

What I'm trying to say, I think, is Salvatore starts way closer to the finishing line, or else the line above which it becomes easy for the reader to know and appreciate that s/he is learning something here- seeing the Realms (and its inhabitants) in all of its technicolour glory. If I just had the books of Salvatore to go on then I'd probably have enough of Faerun to play with for a campaign or two. Enough places that fit into my mind's eye version of the realms, my D&D game version, enough places, and people and stratagems to make a great adventure or thirty.

I liked this one a lot.

Oh, and the italicized Drizzt words of wisdom seem even better here, who knows why- it's like a great episode of Kung-Fu (or whatever it was called) with David Carradine, wandering the world and learning lessons. A bit of pop-psychology rubbing against some emotional/philosophical explanation for what's going on in the here and now- with Drizzt and his companions. The drow just seems a whole lot more sure of himself, and the world, he's graduated (somehow) and doesn't need to stand in the spotlight all the while.

Yeah, it just works.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan.

This was the last great/good Drizzt novel imho.

One of his best come to think of it IMHO.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I had a bit of a hard time remembering this one. While that's long since become a theme of my posting here, in this case it wasn't so much that I'd forgotten aspects of this book as it was I was having trouble making sure I was remembering the right Drizzt book. After so many years, it's easy to get confused about which book particular things happen in.

Having reaffirmed this book's plot by way of an online synopsis, I concur that this is probably one of the stronger Drizzt novels. The dark elf himself seems to be at the apex of his character's journey of acceptance, both in terms of having people who believe in him and are comfortable with him, and in his having come to terms with himself. While not the end of his development per se (as fate, the gods, the universe, etc. continue to throw curve-balls at him), I recall thinking that this book was where his pathos about reconciling who he is with what he is seemed to be resolved. After this it's more external issues, ranging from courtship to invading armies.

What makes this book even better is that it's the jumping-off point for the stories of Jarlaxle and Artemis Entreri. The former is a lot of fun because he deftly slides between "trickster" and "consummate planner" without ever being consumed by either archetype. Like a drow version of Tom Hiddleston's Loki (albeit a little more effective and a lot more self-confident), whether by winging it or because he's anticipated it, he's got an answer for whatever comes up. Interestingly, this makes him one of the less introspective characters in the series, resulting in him pushing developments along; with his endless machinations, Jarlaxle keeps the plot moving.

Entreri, by contrast, begins his own journey of self-discovery here. Salvatore smartly puts an end to anti-Drizzt's all-consuming need to prove that he's better than the drow ranger, correctly identifying that particular arc as having run its narrative course. While Entreri's torment over "I sacrificed meaningful relationships to become this skilled at fighting, so I can't bear the thought of that sacrifice being meaningless because Drizzt reached that same level of skill without sacrificing anything," was certainly relatable, this is where the character finally starts to spin off in a new direction (one that, spoiler alert, comes to the obvious conclusion of "I can still connect with people after all"). Having seen Salvatore do a remarkable job of charting the character growth of Drizzt, we know that he'll be able to just as good (and I think even better) with Entreri.

The cameo by the Cleric Quintet crew struck me as being somewhat heavy-handed. While I can't recall if they made their debut in Drizzt's series in this novel or the previous one, I remember rolling my eyes at how one of the first things we got to see was how the poignant ending of the original quintet was immediately rolled back here, instead giving the characters a sunshine and rainbows finale. Did Salvatore receive a lot of hate-mail for Cadderly's story seeming to end on a minor chord instead of a major one? Either way, it felt gratuitous, and was perhaps the only part of this book where I rolled my eyes.
 

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