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D&D General I'm reading the Forgotten Realms Novels- #141 The Siege by Troy Denning (Return Archwizards 2)

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#128 The Halls of Stormweather Ed. Philip Athans (Sembia 1)
Read 10/6/21 to 17/6/21


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So, there are seven books in this series, and this one- the first one, is the set-up, the intro for all that comes next. That's a nice way to start a series, and a good way to make a little extra money by producing an additional novel, or rather series of short stories. Also a freebie for the series' authors, a chance to set up their protagonists ahead of time.

It also gives us a chance to take a look around Selgaunt and the region of Sembia, a little geography, plenty of politics- a bit of history and intrigue, and so who better to lead us off than Faerun's loving father- Ed Greenwood.

But that's enough of that...

There are plenty of good things in this book, not least the promise that it makes- some of what comes next could be good, after all Selgaunt and Sembia seem to be very adventuresome places, there's lots of intrigue with merchant families doing their best to stab each other in the back. There's a mad king/leader-type, the Hulorn- there's a fair amount of magic, there are plenty of the downtrodden, and... well- all the pieces are in place.

I'm a little more optimistic than usual.

That said, there's the usual issue- the heroes of this and the following six novels are another wealthy family, with all the power and prestige already in their corner, if they fail spectacularly (and don't die) then someone will come and pick them up and see that they're alright.

Apologies for the constant class war politics but I am sick to death of reading about the brave and wonderful sons and daughters of the monied and landed gentry that are here to save the day.

I want my heroes lowborn, because the distance travelled is far greater- when they make it against the odds to herohood, their lives are irrevocably changed, and they require fewer crutches along the way.

Rant over.

Then there's the fact that some of the novelettes are not as good as the others, and samey-same, some of the characters we meet are less interesting than the others. There are oddities here- Richard Lee Byers magical realist fantasy is like some mad mix of a Queen Rock Opera and a Jodorowsky movie. It's weird, and then it just peters out... there's even a bit in which the protagonist (Shamur Uskreven- from memory) puts her sword in her mouth before leaping onto the back of a charging Gorgon. The blade is a mighty broadsword she wrestled from the cold dead hands of a huge orc earlier, if it helps your imagination any then Shamur is small and slight. It all seems a little like bobble-headed anime at times in this one.

And here's the thing- Taz (Thazienne Uskreven) is in this story too, but later she gets a story all of her very own, and another walk on in yet another. The first Taz is a bratish punk kid with the skills to pay the bills, in her later appearances she retains her skills but gets a lot more in the way of depth and character (and is not at all bratish).

So, there's a little odd- every now and then I had to stop and think back, try to reconcile the different versions of the same character, but some of this is inevitable so, not a biggie.

Also, to everyone that has read this series- Erevis Cale is a mixture of Artemis and Jarlaxle, only with his ethics compass (from what I have read so far) pointing to GOOD. That right? A little bit dodgy, and with a past (and plenty of contacts no doubt) but otherwise no job too difficult in order to keep the Master (and some of the other family) safe and well.

We'll see.

So, it was slow to begin with- but Greenwood is like that, the Gross and Kemp stories were the standout for me, and I love the fact that I already have three new favourite characters- Taz, Tal and the butler who (most probably) done it- Erevis Cale.

Read.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan
 

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Dire Bare

Legend
#128 The Halls of Stormweather Ed. Philip Athans (Sembia 1)
Read 10/6/21 to 17/6/21


View attachment 138478

So, there are seven books in this series, and this one- the first one, is the set-up, the intro for all that comes next. That's a nice way to start a series, and a good way to make a little extra money by producing an additional novel, or rather series of short stories. Also a freebie for the series' authors, a chance to set up their protagonists ahead of time.

It also gives us a chance to take a look around Selgaunt and the region of Sembia, a little geography, plenty of politics- a bit of history and intrigue, and so who better to lead us off than Faerun's loving father- Ed Greenwood.

But that's enough of that...

There are plenty of good things in this book, not least the promise that it makes- some of what comes next could be good, after all Selgaunt and Sembia seem to be very adventuresome places, there's lots of intrigue with merchant families doing their best to stab each other in the back. There's a mad king/leader-type, the Hulorn- there's a fair amount of magic, there are plenty of the downtrodden, and... well- all the pieces are in place.

I'm a little more optimistic than usual.

That said, there's the usual issue- the heroes of this and the following six novels are another wealthy family, with all the power and prestige already in their corner, if they fail spectacularly (and don't die) then someone will come and pick them up and see that they're alright.

Apologies for the constant class war politics but I am sick to death of reading about the brave and wonderful sons and daughters of the monied and landed gentry that are here to save the day.

I want my heroes lowborn, because the distance travelled is far greater- when they make it against the odds to herohood, their lives are irrevocably changed, and they require fewer crutches along the way.

Rant over.

Then there's the fact that some of the novelettes are not as good as the others, and samey-same, some of the characters we meet are less interesting than the others. There are oddities here- Richard Lee Byers magical realist fantasy is like some mad mix of a Queen Rock Opera and a Jodorowsky movie. It's weird, and then it just peters out... there's even a bit in which the protagonist (Shamur Uskreven- from memory) puts her sword in her mouth before leaping onto the back of a charging Gorgon. The blade is a mighty broadsword she wrestled from the cold dead hands of a huge orc earlier, if it helps your imagination any then Shamur is small and slight. It all seems a little like bobble-headed anime at times in this one.

And here's the thing- Taz (Thazienne Uskreven) is in this story too, but later she gets a story all of her very own, and another walk on in yet another. The first Taz is a bratish punk kid with the skills to pay the bills, in her later appearances she retains her skills but gets a lot more in the way of depth and character (and is not at all bratish).

So, there's a little odd- every now and then I had to stop and think back, try to reconcile the different versions of the same character, but some of this is inevitable so, not a biggie.

Also, to everyone that has read this series- Erevis Cale is a mixture of Artemis and Jarlaxle, only with his ethics compass (from what I have read so far) pointing to GOOD. That right? A little bit dodgy, and with a past (and plenty of contacts no doubt) but otherwise no job too difficult in order to keep the Master (and some of the other family) safe and well.

We'll see.

So, it was slow to begin with- but Greenwood is like that, the Gross and Kemp stories were the standout for me, and I love the fact that I already have three new favourite characters- Taz, Tal and the butler who (most probably) done it- Erevis Cale.

Read.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan
If you enjoy Erevis Cale, you're in luck. After the Sembia series closes, Cale gets a pile of novels that focus on him as the protagonist, with a new crew of supporting characters separate from the Stormweather family. He's definitely the stand-out character of this series.
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#129 Shadow's Witness by Paul S Kemp (Sembia 2)
Read 24/6/21 to 26/6/21


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Now that's more like it...

Maybe I'm a simple soul but this is exactly the sort of thing that I want to read here, although let's get a few caveats in first.

I may have skipped it but Erevis Cale looks to me to be a middle-aged, or at least 40-something year old feller, and so his love/obsession with the very young Taz seems, well... I understand what the author was aiming for but... creepy. Obviously times have changed but still, I almost don't get how this part of the story got retained, Erevis (surely) could have been a father figure with very little lost. So, ignore this stuff as best you can, if you want.

Also- "Dark!"

I equally like and dislike the way in which the author has turned "Dark!" into the catch-all epithet used to describe all situations that are vaguely, well... "Dark!"

"Dark!", is just what people say in Selgaunt (and maybe further afield) although maybe it's just the cool folk that say "Dark!", street slang- that kind of thing.

I even have a favourite "Dark!" from the novel, the "Dark!" in question has more L's in it, and you are going to have to read it to find it.

So, the rest...

The rest is the best Forgotten Realms novel that I have read for months, there's Erevis & Jak, there are villains- including Yrsillar, the demon, and a few of his lesser shadow demon chums. The demons are very cool- and having read this I now have a better way to describe the wounds and hurt they cause- love that.

Same for a bunch of other things, in fact this is basically a scenario (or version) of something I want to stat out and try to run/DM. Nice plot, nice enemies, great environs- rooftops, thieves guild, sewers, Avernus et al.

The way that Erevis finds the light, I mean- "Dark!" and becomes a Champion of Mask.

This is all just so wonderfully take-able, what I have read here will change my game- which is exactly what I want from these books.

I'm also can't wait to get to the other Cale books now, so this one did its job- and then some.

Read- a "Dark!" cracker.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan
 

jeremypowell

Adventurer
#129 Shadow's Witness by Paul S Kemp (Sembia 2)
Read 24/6/21 to 26/6/21

I may have skipped it but Erevis Cale looks to me to be a middle-aged, or at least 40-something year old feller, and so his love/obsession with the very young Taz seems, well... I understand what the author was aiming for but... creepy. Obviously times have changed but still, I almost don't get how this part of the story got retained, Erevis (surely) could have been a father figure with very little lost. So, ignore this stuff as best you can, if you want.
He’s thirty-six or so in this one. (Born 1335 DR.) Tazi is twenty-two or so (born 1349). I’m not saying that makes it unimpeachable—if it seems creepy if he’s forty, it probably also seems creepy if he’s thirty-six. Me, I don’t think a relationship between a thirty-six-year-old and a twenty-two-year-old is inherently creepy. What IS creepy is the fact that when he became the family butler in 1361, he was twenty-six and she was twelve. (The story is clear he didn’t love her until she became an adult, for whatever that’s worth.)

At any rate, keep reading—the Cale novels will continue to impress, and while you have arguably already seen the best of the Sembia series, most of the rest of those are also pretty good.
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
He’s thirty-six or so in this one. (Born 1335 DR.) Tazi is twenty-two or so (born 1349). I’m not saying that makes it unimpeachable—if it seems creepy if he’s forty, it probably also seems creepy if he’s thirty-six. Me, I don’t think a relationship between a thirty-six-year-old and a twenty-two-year-old is inherently creepy. What IS creepy is the fact that when he became the family butler in 1361, he was twenty-six and she was twelve. (The story is clear he didn’t love her until she became an adult, for whatever that’s worth.)

At any rate, keep reading—the Cale novels will continue to impress, and while you have arguably already seen the best of the Sembia series, most of the rest of those are also pretty good.

That makes it better, thank you- much less creepy.

Cheers Paul
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#130 The Shattered Mask by Richard Lee Byers (Sembia 3)
Read 1/7/21 to 5/7/21


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And another good one, perhaps not as good as the last, but- now I've written that, in some ways better.

If you can't figure the plot out for this one by the time you get to about page twenty then you need to give your head a shake, because it's not working right. But that's not really the thing with these books, and particularly if you've read a lot of them.

Shamur and Thamalon don't know each other, which is down to the fact (mostly) that Shamur has a secret. Time to let the cat out of the bag, and... everyone lives happily(-ish) ever after. In a nutshell.

But again, that much is obvious from the get-go, it's the path it takes that aligns with my fantasy fiction desires.

Selgaunt is getting better, or else better known to me (and any other reader), there are places to visit here, and organisations to make use of in your game. Some very nice locales (the theatre, the floating city, the scab), and some equally nice enemy organisations to get your PCs involved with.

It's a rip-roaring adventure at times, and with bags of action- and very well plotted- by which I mean the tension is rising, the action (and the spectacle/event) growing. The finale involves a hoard of summoned creatures- behir, gnolls, carrion crawlers; an earthquake like spell- on a densely populated bridge in the middle of the city, the creepiest of devilish minions, and with the creepiest (and yet most polite) dead bad guy wizard.

Marance (the dead bad guy wizard) and Bileworm are just a fantastic double act, and more so because the author has not gone the usual route- they're not (just) scheming evil big bads that only speak in proclamation.

Marance is so awfully polite (to the rest of his family) and so formal, sure he's a scenery chewing villain but he does it with style and elan. While Bileworm, well... I want one. The evil sidekick that steals the show, a capering dark spirit that devours the fear of its victims.

It's the little stuff that makes me grin, as the Talendar patriarch (Marance's brother) squirms on the floor before a great serpent (he's terrified of snakes) Bileworm heads over to watch the spectacle- to drink it all in. I/you can imagine the foul miscreant- gurgling (giggling) and slavering, feeding on the old man's fear. Lovely.

Then there's the Uskevren's- Shamur, of course, is the main player in this one but all of the family get a go, and what's great about this (and the three books in the series I have read so far) is that they seem to be in character. By which I mean what I have read so far all gels together, there have been other series here in which character A appears in several novels, and in each seems to be vastly different. Author A does this thing, while author B does something different- the result, character A becomes unbelievable, or else confused, or else (more likely) just annoying. There is consistency here, and I like that.

It also helps that Mr Richard Lee Byers has a way with words, it's well written- not overly wordy and saddled with lore and explanation, just... visceral, and clever, and... well, just so nicely put together.

I finished the novel liking the Uskreven's better, and that must be a good thing.

Don't get me wrong, they're still the A Team, meets Scooby Doo, meets the Adam's Family, meets... oh, but you get my drift. They all have the skills to pay the bills, and they're posh folk with money and resources (which I like here less often). But, they'll do for me- if there's more like this to discover in these novels then I'm going to be a happy man. Whoever it was that co-ordinated the Sembia project did a great job sharing the knowledge, and keeping all of the authors in line.

Read- bordering on the great.

Scratch that- great.

It's a daft thing to say but it also helps that the novels seem to overlap, or else build on what has come before- coherent and more surprisingly for a multi-author project it seems to be building something greater than the sum of its parts. I hope- don't let me down.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan.
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#131 Black Wolf by Dave Gross (Sembia 4)
Read 10/7/21 to 12/7/21


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And it's another good 'un, I am really liking the Sembia series, the odd thing is I have never thought (previously) about setting any adventures in the region in my game, I guess that's because I didn't know about the place and that the focus is mostly on the Sword Coast. All of my games have been as much coast as they have been sword, if you get me.

While this book is about Talbot, the Black Wolf in question- whoops, gave that away, it is as much about Darrow, a servile nobody that serves as our eyes and ears to a variety of fiendish operations, he's easily lead is our Darrow.

So, while there's plenty more of the up and downs of the latest member of the Uskevren family, and Tal in particular, Darrow is FTW the guy that goes places, and sees things that I- as a DM, want to bare witness to. Darrow gets to visit with all of the supercool bad guys- from Radu, a very dark noble swordsman- we can't have seen the last of him, to Stannis his blubbery aquatic vampire brother.

Radu is great, and while he doesn't do a whole lot of talking, he's the strong and silent deadly villain- privileged, powerful and a stone-cold killer. But Stannis, oh Stannis- soft spoken, polite and super-camp, and a terrible vampiric monstrosity. Want to get an insight into how to play a bloodsucking noble, Stannis is your man- great lair, great servants, great chitter-chat, and Darrow gets to see it all.

Then there's the Nightwalkers, lycanthropes- and specifically werewolves, Rusk and the gang- the Huntmaster, again- want to see how to play a pack of werewolves, then just read this novel. There's also plenty here for readers interested in Malar (the Lord of the Hunt) and Selune (Mistress Moon), you've got to love the fact that Feena (and her mother) are werewolves too.

So, Selgaunt and the area is still a great place to visit, there's plenty more of the Uskevren family- although this subplot and the various other ongoing threads play second fiddle to the monstrous nature of our antagonist/protagonist. There's just a ton of stuff to like here, and more importantly for me- to grab for my own game.

That said the end is a little disappointing- I like that folk have to die, some of the good guys get slaughtered, but it all seems a little too easy, too quick, or at least the confrontation with Rusk et al does. I fear/hop that we are going to be seeing some of the survivors of this finale fracs in other books in the series, fingers-crossed.

Also, at times there's a lot of plot to wade through- none of it difficult to follow but it gets wriggly in places. Oh, she's Eckert's daughter. or Oh, Rusk is her dad, there's so much of it at times that it somewhat deflates the impact. Some of the revelations just become speed bumps on the road, rather than starting reveals. That's not a bad thing necessarily but at times it just feels like if the author had another 100 pages to play with they would have took us on a bigger better ride, and still had room for a more satisfying climax at the end.

Read. Very good.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan.
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#132 Heirs of Prophecy by Lisa Smedman (Sembia 5)
Read 15/7/21 to 20/7/21


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Well, it had to happen- this one isn't quite as good as the others in this series, at least- well, the end leaves a lot to be desired. I get the fact that the author is trying to do something different with the ending. The only way to stop the war is... Love. But it's very clunky and in places just feels like a peremptory version of something better, cleverer, and more keeping with D&D game. The complete bewilderment of the super-villain archwizard (half-) drow bad guy is... silly is the word that keeps springing to mind.

Which is a pity because a lot of what came before is great, and certainly in the style of the other books in this series, and there's enough hand-holds here for the reader to see how it all fits into the larger Sembia story. So, that's good- as is Larajin as she makes her way into her new world... of elves. However, Leifander suffers for the same reasons- he's just a boorish elf, I mean... you don't get to write that too often, the elves (so far as I have read) mostly get a good press here. Mostly, there are obvious exceptions, and particularly when it's elf on elf action in the FR novels, they don't get on at times.

But again, Leifander comes off as a bit of a clot, and quick to anger- almost impossible to cool, he's not very elfish, but he's a kid, I guess. Oddly the rest of the elves that we get to meet are not at all like him- they're task (class) orientated and capable of careful thought and consideration. They're very good, the rest of the cast are either shallow, or else a little comic, particularly, and again this is where it falls down again, for me, the Hillsfar chief and (laterly) new arch villain- Maalthiir, I just don't get it.

A novel, particularly in this genre, is only as good as its villain- Drakkar, the half-drow Wizard is suitably terrifying, and a nice black cloud always on the horizon. Maalthiir is about as menacing as... well, nothing- he's not menacing at all. The threat seems to get muddled at the end, it's been good trying to stop a war but now... well, the author has to end it, and that's always going to anticlimactic; that's what a de-escalation of conflict achieves.

I just had the feeling at the end I had got sucker punched, lots of nice build up and good info- some semi-interesting characters, and then... Love you lots! Let's make everything all nice again.

Read

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan.
 

jeremypowell

Adventurer
#132 Heirs of Prophecy by Lisa Smedman
I enjoyed this one, though like you I didn't love it. I don't mind so much when an FR author diverges from the typical D&D tropes regarding strong villains, climactic battles, etc., or even subverts those expectations entirely—perhaps because the D&D I run is somewhat skewed away from combat compared to the average DM (my ideal campaign is 25% exploration, 25% combat, 50% interaction; in the end a different system like The Dark Eye or The One Ring is better suited to my style, though I end up making do with almost exclusively D&D 5e due to its prevalence and simplicity). But the novel still falls at or near the bottom of my Sembia rankings, for most of the reasons you mention.

Speaking of which, I'm very curious to hear what you think of the final two books in the series, and what your ultimate "best to worst" order will be. The Sembia series was for a long time (and maybe still is) thought of as one of the best FR series for new readers to start out with. It is, to my knowledge, still the only FR series to be reissued in its entirety with new covers (I think the originals are better, if only because they're much more distinctive; you appear to have some of each style), and with a new series tagline/subtitle: "Sembia: Gateway to the Realms" and corresponding "the perfect introduction"-type back cover copy.

My own list for the five you've read so far would be:
1. Shadow's Witness (bk. 2)
2. Black Wolf (bk. 4)
3. Halls of Stormweather (bk. 1)
4. Shattered Mask (bk. 3)
5. Heirs of Prophecy (bk. 5)

... leaving books 6 and 7 (about both of which I have very strong opinions) unranked for now, so as not to influence your own reading of them.
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
I enjoyed this one, though like you I didn't love it. I don't mind so much when an FR author diverges from the typical D&D tropes regarding strong villains, climactic battles, etc., or even subverts those expectations entirely—perhaps because the D&D I run is somewhat skewed away from combat compared to the average DM (my ideal campaign is 25% exploration, 25% combat, 50% interaction; in the end a different system like The Dark Eye or The One Ring is better suited to my style, though I end up making do with almost exclusively D&D 5e due to its prevalence and simplicity). But the novel still falls at or near the bottom of my Sembia rankings, for most of the reasons you mention.

Speaking of which, I'm very curious to hear what you think of the final two books in the series, and what your ultimate "best to worst" order will be. The Sembia series was for a long time (and maybe still is) thought of as one of the best FR series for new readers to start out with. It is, to my knowledge, still the only FR series to be reissued in its entirety with new covers (I think the originals are better, if only because they're much more distinctive; you appear to have some of each style), and with a new series tagline/subtitle: "Sembia: Gateway to the Realms" and corresponding "the perfect introduction"-type back cover copy.

My own list for the five you've read so far would be:
1. Shadow's Witness (bk. 2)
2. Black Wolf (bk. 4)
3. Halls of Stormweather (bk. 1)
4. Shattered Mask (bk. 3)
5. Heirs of Prophecy (bk. 5)

... leaving books 6 and 7 (about both of which I have very strong opinions) unranked for now, so as not to influence your own reading of them.

Of the five I have read so far then I'd struggle to to say for definite which one is top, to be honest Shadow's Witness, Shattered Mask & Black Wolf are really hard to put in any particular order. Shadow's Witness because Erevis has the anti-hero thing going on, and the older I think of him being when the action unfolds, then the cooler he gets. This may, of course, be a reflection of my rush through the years. Erevis, for me, is the best character I've found in here so far, but... Black Wolf, with Darrow, and the things he gets to see and do, well... it's a different thing it does but it's a much better story, and goes to some much more (usually) inaccessible places, there's just so much meat in this one, great villains, scenes, drama et al. Then again the Shattered mask, as trite as it is- oh, so we love/like each other, is equally well told, and as much as I dislike the way in which the story/love goes, I can't help but admire the structure, and the number of balls that are kept in the air. Oddly, from memory- and I don't think I said much about this at the time, but I like the language in the book. I'm an ex-lecturer in English, I read a lot of books- and this is an awfully arrogant thing to say but I rarely have to go and look up a word, or else work out from the context what a word is likely to mean. There's also the way that some authors use language to elevate meaning, or to make things more real, visceral. Shattered Mask is good for this, it's one of those books that every now and then made me smirk, and quietly nod, thinking- 'good one, that works.'

So, 2 to 4 all do something different but get in the very crowded top spot.

Next up is Heirs of Prophecy, but again- I'm still smarting at the blow, and if I were scoring these out of ten then Books 2-4 would be somewhere around 8.5 (to 9), while Heirs only scores a 6 (to 6.5).

Halls of Stormweather is/was a bit of this, and then a bit of that... which is amusing in moments, if you want to read short stories then get into James Joyce or Raymond Carver, but mostly not Fantasy Fiction. Don't get me wrong I've read some crackers in my time from the genre but even in the Forgotten Realms author's club, then the quality can dip, or else silliness (imho) can intrude. All anthologies suffer because of this. Don't get me wrong this is a gateway book, its job is to get the reader into much harder substances- the FR novels.

Cheers goonalan
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#133 Sands of the Soul by Voronica Whitney-Robinson (Sembia 6)
Read 27/7/21 to 1/8/21


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So, apologies in advance but I'm going to say some less than complimentary things about this one, although- just to make clear, it's not terrible- it does what it says on the tin (as it were) it's just not very sophisticated, or else... well, it comes in light. Light on everything- characterisation, plot, language, excitement, etc. Again, it's not a failure, it just failed to get my motor running, repeatedly.

So, where to start- well to begin with this is the least Tazi- Tazi that I have encountered so far, the fact that she's mostly 2d doesn't help. She doesn't stand out in any way- she's not the minx that we've read all about in the previous novels, she seems forlorn- and I get she's recovering from all of the bad stuff that happened, but... I'm not buying it. Tazi is no longer fun, or smart, she just follows her nose, does a variety of dumb things- she's just so gullible, there seems to be no reason for many of her choices- beyond it's the path of least resistance.

But she's not alone Steorf is mostly an arse, beyond being an arse... well, there's not much to recommend him, and even less to like.

Fannah is blind, and again, beyond that- well, she does nothing much. Don't get me wrong- she gets the odd line but, there's not a lot made of her.

Ciredor, the villain, has moments of cruel and evil, and thus he comes alive- chattering to himself (and telling us the plot) and rubbing his hands together building up to his next Mwha-ha-ha! He's alright, although the defeating of Ciredor is just... well, if I was DMing a game and this was the finale- I'd get lynched.

There's also something to the fact that although some (many) of these books seem to pay only slight concession to the D&D game, this one... well, again- I just keep getting tripped up by this stuff. There's a moment when the heroes struggle to contain a pack of rats, which is okay- however earlier on they accounted for half-a-dozen aranea with only a little bother, but not too much. The heroes, particularly Tazi and Steorf, well in previous books you can pretty much figure the classes for the protagonists and antagonists, but this one, it's just messy. Steorf struggles to maintain his light spell, but had no problems dishing out fiery obliteration to anything that looked at him funny, just two days previous.

It all just seems convenient, as in the author adds tension (or attempts to) by deflating the heroes powers and or abilities, or else by having them wander into the next set-up/trap.

Then there's the plot- it's a straight line, pretty much, and it either just falls into Tazi's lap or else, she does the dumb thing and then a while later figures it out.

There are maybe half-a-dozen fleshed out characters here, and when I say fleshed out... well, nothing like the people I've come to know in the previous books. It's just not busy, or complex- the story and the folk in it just roll on.

There are a few nice locations (the minarets) that have enough about them for me to think about pinching something for my own game, but really not enough- a lot of it could take place anywhere. It's very generic, no location comes alive.

I liked the, sorry The, Lurker for a while but even he turned dumb, and pretty much got thrown away at then end.

It's all a little too easy, I thought at first I was reading a novel for younger readers- even the language is unsophisticated, although that, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing. But, there's just so little to recommend it.

Read.

Stay frosty.

Cheers goonalan
 


Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#134 Lord of Stormweather by Dave Gross (Sembia 7)
Read 8/8/21 to 9/8/21


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Here's the thing, I read this one in two days- what does that tell you?

Well, we're back to Sembia, and Selgaunt, and all of the Uskevren family are in here- it's suitably odd in places with the through the Vault (looking glass) stuff in Stormweather Tower and the alt-kingdom, but... it sets a pace.

There are things that I'm still not sure about, because the plot is a tangled web at the end. Also the fallout at the end basically requires the author to more or less list all of the characters we have encountered in the mix and then catalogue each individual's afterwards. Specifically, if they're dead or alive (mostly alive) and what effect the events here have had upon the various players.

So, Thamalon is dead, Shamur is alive and accepting of her new step-daughter, Larajin. Tamlin is the new big chief of the Uskevren, and he's stepped up to the plate- and struck a home run. Talbot is still the big, bad (angry) wolf. Taz is still broken inside, and thus she sneaks off in the night. Cale has served the family gloriously once again, but finishes the novel pining for Taz, his lost (unspoken) of love.

I figure there are a few Erevis Cale books coming along the track, will Lurch be heading out to look for Taz, that's my best guess, but- well, I'll keep reading and find out.

The alt-kingdom of Stormweather Towers, and the mad sorcerer- sorry, Sorcerer Tam Lin; well, some of this I just didn't dig, or else get, but the action was all very real- and suitably D&D like, and that's what I'm looking for in these books.

Here's the thing- there are some incredibly good ideas in here, stolen from elsewhere (perhaps) but well played out/used by the author. Several of these strange developments are so good that I have already decided to steal them for my game, and again- that's what I'm here for primarily.

Radu, the Malveen assassin, with his coterie of ghosts- all of the folk that he has killed since the bone dagger got planted in his head. One of the ghosts being Chaney, Talbot's former best bud. I'll be honest, I just love the idea of a PC (or a villain) attempting to get on with his dastardly endeavour while being surrounded and constantly pestered by the spectral chorusconscience that his slaughter has caused to come into effect.

Chaney gets some of the best lines in the book, trying to figure a way to keep Radu on the straight and narrow, or else turn the family/clan fixated one fiend serial killer on a course that will help, and not hinder (permanently), the folk that Chaney holds dear.

The Vault itself, buried beneath the 'real' Stormweather Towers, an extra-dimensional safety net- designed to catch any of the true-blood Uskevren if and when some magical power (trap = the painting) attempts to whisk them away. I like the idea- I don't fully understand it but the authors use of this artefact, and its description- all of the doors and windows of the tower/vault leading to various heaven's or hell's. I like that.

Although, I guess it works for anybody, or else why would Cale and Shamur end up in the alt-kingdom, or did that happen because Thamalon went before them- somehow?

There are plenty of odd things that happen in the unreal Stormweather Towers, some of which I am still trying to catch up with in my mind- but how? Is the question I most often pose myself, and there are probably a fare few loose threads in this bit, but... I read it two days, that's still the significant fact for me here.

That means sports fans, I wanted/needed to know- to know how things were going to work out for the incredible Uskevrens, and more importantly (perhaps) for nearly 75% of the novel- I just wanted to know how this artefact/plot-device/alt-reality wrinkle was going to play out.

The offered explanation for the Vault's happenings is, of course, daft- Tamlin thought/dreamed this as a child, so-and-so did that, and voila- bad dead grandfather Aldimar- the vault's gatekeeper, gets into the game.

Then there's the stuff with the Hulorn (Mad Andy & his chump-wizard Drakkar), a lot of which just seems to be a side project if the central plot is not convincing enough, but... it's just a rip roaring more-of-the-same, with all of the Uskevren super-family getting into action (more or less). Likewise, the parade of villains is all good, as usual, with Radu (as previously) the stand-out.

I'm not unhappy it's a bit of a mess in places, as we plunge jump from reality to reality, it just reminds me of Saturday morning TV when I was a kid. Every episode/chapter just a race to the next bit, a fragment of new understanding extracted- a furious and dangerous fight, or a startling new revelation, and then a cliff-hanger to make you turn the page.

The language is good, Sembia/Selgaunt et al seem to be all correct and in place, the characters are multifarious and for the most part interesting. I think, for me, Chaney is my standout in this one. I have a thing for sarky ghosts anyway, making the quip-some conscience a sure-fire hit with this reader. Oddly, Radu is probably my second favourite character in here- and particularly because it became very obvious very quickly that the author wanted the Malveen assassin to survive this novel. I admire that.

As already stated above, I could go on about the strangeness- how did this work? What's with the new Tamlin? How did Vox get alive again? But, I'm a forgiving soul (it seems).

Read, and I really enjoyed it.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan.
 

jeremypowell

Adventurer
Lord of Stormweather is narrowly my favorite of this whole series. Shadow’s Witness, my 2nd-place choice, is close to this level of quality, but that one doesn’t have as many weird ideas as this one, and in one or two ways Shadow’s Witness still feels like its author’s first novel—which, unless I’m mistaken, it is.

There were several glorious moments in Lord of Stormweather where I thought the author made unexpected and excellent choices about the plot, especially some of the “what’s going on???” chapter-enders and their corresponding “oh, that’s what’s going on” reveals. The plot-stuffed feeling of the novel, with each parallel thread more or less equally interesting, led me too to finish it faster than I had finished any of the previous installments.

Sands of the Soul, on the other hand, lands at the bottom of my ranking. It is to my mind the only thoroughly weak link in the Sembia series chain.

I’m still loving reading your reviews of these, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next one. But you’ve almost caught up to me—I’m on the War of the Spider Queen series and moving more slowly than you are, though not following exactly the same order as you—so at some point soon I’ll fall behind and have to start waiting to read your posts (spoilers, you know). Which might just make me sad enough to hasten my pace!
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I'll be honest, I just love the idea of a PC (or a villain) attempting to get on with his dastardly endeavour while being surrounded and constantly pestered by the spectral chorusconscience that his slaughter has caused to come into effect.
It's not the same, but this always makes me think of that scene near the end of the old Maximum Carnage mini-series (which has been on my mind lately thanks to the new trailer for his forthcoming movie being dropped), where Carnage is hallucinating that his old victims have come back to haunt him:

VZBzcLQ.jpeg
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
#135 The City of Ravens by Richard Baker (Cities 1)
Read 13/8/21


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So, I read this one in a day- that's the first time that I've done this, although there's a few of the others that I've read previously that I got through in 24 hours, so...

I enjoyed it, and that's not to say that it's perfect- or brilliant. What it is, is a rollercoaster, or else there's just always something else going on that caused me to want to turn another page, just one more chapter.

There's an entire campaign worth of stuff in here- our guy Jack Ravenwild is in the middle of a burglary (with Anders, northern barbarian) when we meet him. Then there's a recovery job- an ancient tome that's passed through several folk's hands over the centuries and is finally located in the tower of a necromancer. Jack, of course, gets the book- this time with the help of Tharzon, a cool dwarf. The mystery book is about creating shades (shadow simulacra), remember this.

Jack's patron who wants the book is Elana/the Warlord- she's the big bad, although Jack doesn't know this at first.

Then there's the Mask Game, in which Jack assumes the persona of a lord and with the help of Illyth, a real lady, seeks to solve the mystery. Which they do, although the duo are also present when one of the players goes tonto and tries to kill the aristocracy of Ravens Bluff. Note, Jack has also been investigating this- in his spare time. Oh, and Illyth and Jack solve the riddle.

Then there's the secret tomb of some Dwarven brewmaster- Jack ventures there, with his friends again. Then there's the laurel and hardy Knights of the Hawk who are seeking to arrest Jack because he's consorting with the Warlord (see above). Then there's the shadow versions of Jack, and others, that keep popping up throughout the city to bring chaos.

Jack takes a good long while to work out who's to blame for these nasty shadow-creatures, which is odd because he must remember who he gave the book to, Elana = the Warlord.

Then there's a drow version of a mythal, and as it turns out the Warlord is the long lost relation of... oh god, is there really more of this.

But as it turns out Jack is one of the few folk in Raven's Bluff who can wield magic as easily as blowing his nose, and so is immune to all of the mythal's power- in fact, he can wield it.

Then there's a couple of the brothers from the first burglary that are still in pursuit of Jack.

Then there's a bit in a prison that no-one can escape from in which Jack wastes away for a few days until the Warlord, who looks like the mayor of Ravens Bluff (or is the mayor of Ravens Bluff) just turns up and takes Jack away- easy as.

And then there are ropers.

And then there's a Deep Dragon.

And then there's a drow swordmaster, a tuigan barbarian, a shou/wa high level wizards, and a necromancer with a mouse familiar.

And then there's, well... there are lots more cool things.

It's like all of the plots at once, just everything- all of the cool things that you could possibly pack into 312 pages of fantasy fiction.

And so, it's shiny- by which I mean there's no shortage of action, and cool places, and groovy adventurers, and nasty villains, and... there's just a metric naughty word ton of D&D stuff in here.

But there's idiocy too- like Jack not knowing who's sending the shadow creatures, after he delivers the book to Elana/the Warlord. There's an entire city (Raven's Bluff) that is happy not to get involved (much) in any of the above plots, the city's authorities seem to be very passive. Except for the laurel and hardy Knights of the Hawk.

There's a lot of other bits of silly.

There's a lot of Jack talking to himself- because he has no-one else to talk to in order to tell us the plot, or add a bit of backstory- big chunks of text.

There's a lot of Jack, he must be on every page.

So, hardly a classic- but there's lots of stuff to steal from this one, point of fact there's enough adventure in here for a party of 4 PCs to have fun for 20-30 sessions of D&D, possibly level 5 to 9. There's a hefty-ish module in here, and a city guidebook to fill out the hardback.

It's great, but flawed.

Read.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan
 

jeremypowell

Adventurer
#135 The City of Ravens by Richard Baker
That city guidebook exists—Ed Greenwood’s The City of Ravens Bluff was published shortly before this novel was. The novel relies heavily on the material in that sourcebook, which itself was Greenwood’s attempt to bring together and unify a thousand different individual RPGA members’ contributions to the city, along with the several previous, smaller supplements published for it (Gateway to Ravens Bluff, Port of Ravens Bluff, etc.) and numerous articles detailing the city published in Polyhedron. Before it was even called Ravens Bluff it was known as “The Living City”—still the biggest and most successful attempt at a shared setting where RPG convention play affects the setting (with one exception, that being the Aventuria of Das Schwarze Auge).
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
That city guidebook exists—Ed Greenwood’s The City of Ravens Bluff was published shortly before this novel was. The novel relies heavily on the material in that sourcebook, which itself was Greenwood’s attempt to bring together and unify a thousand different individual RPGA members’ contributions to the city, along with the several previous, smaller supplements published for it (Gateway to Ravens Bluff, Port of Ravens Bluff, etc.) and numerous articles detailing the city published in Polyhedron.
Which is the reason that particular supplement is written in an eye-strainingly small font size. Seriously, the book is 160 pages long, but if you bumped up the type to the size of most TSR products, it would probably be at least half-again that many pages. Trying to read it cover-to-cover, even with good lighting, would cause anyone to need glasses by the time they were done.
 

Shadowedeyes

Explorer
I was waiting for this one, as The City of Ravens was one of the Forgotten Realms novels I really enjoyed awhile back. I think your assessment is pretty fair though. What it really does well, like you said, is make sure you're never bored. Something is always happening, and even after Jack gets out of one situation, he pretty much ends up in another right after.
 

Goonalan

Hero
Supporter
Hi there,

Looking for a favour, here's the list of all the books I can find that are Forgotten Realms, my to-read list right back at the start of this thread.

I've updated it added a bunch of books to the list (in BOLD), that's all of them- every FR Novel, I think.

Have I missed any?

Any other obvious errors, exclusions, inclusions or whatever- I just want to get it as right as I can?

Thanks for taking the time.

Stay safe and well you lovely people.

Cheers goonalan
 
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