#053 Red Magic by Jean Rabe (Harpers 3)
Read 22/2/20 to 26/2/20
Book 3- and... I'm really not sure about this one. I just don't see it- it seems awfully contrived, but let's just get the caveats in at the start.
Another Harper story (obv), Galvin is a Harper Druid- he doesn't like cities, civilisation and, well... people. Wynter is a Harper Centaur, the pair hang out (perhaps) somewhere close to Thay. Brenna is an Aglarond politician (and Sorcerer) with seemingly no experience of adventuring, and the various hardships that it entails- one could ask how she came by all those Sorcerer levels but... I'll leave it for now.
Aglarond (and Brenna) think that a/some Red Wizards are looking to expand their operations, building an army (perhaps) to invade Aglarond. The three somehow come up with the ruse of travelling to Amruthar (in Thay) to do a little spying. Tbh Wynter is ex-of the district, so the Centaur's suited to the operation, although he's also mostly a pacifist, and absolutely against slavery (and Thay is full of slaves) so... not entirely ideal for an undercover op. Oh, and did I mention that Galvin hates cities (and people), and Brenna isn't an adventurer. So, if you could pick three people not to do this job then, well- these would be the three, particularly in their present configuration.
An example of this occurs when the trio get to Amruthar, the trio (every where they go) stand out like a sore thumb- Galvin (in the role of slave to Brenna) is constantly acting otherwise, and doing things that you figure your average slave would be punished ten times over for. Wynter buys a mixed bag of Dwarf slaves, who then treat the three heroes as figures of fun, constantly jeopardising the mission. It's the idiocy of some it that I can't stand. It comes across as action from around the gaming table, but not in a good way- with the DM just letting the PCs continue to get away with it.
Oops, I was upposed to be telling you about the things I liked about this one before I started digging in to it.
So, I like Thay- I dig the Red Wizards, Maligor (the bad guy) and in particular Szass Tam, the Lich is the coolest guy in the book by some distance. But the things he does... I don't get it.
I'll explain some more.
Maligor the Red Wizard is out to grab himself a bigger chunk of the action (mostly at the expensive of Tam), pretending to get his army of Gnolls together while secretly building a second army of Darkenbeasts, the real target are the gold mines of Thay.
So, the adventuresome trio nose around Amruthar, they're Mr. Bean-esque at keeping their head down, they make three Gather Information checks (although mostly unseen) and find out what they need to know. It doesn't seem that credible- the Red Wizards constantly at war amongst themselves, a world of falsehood and intrigue and they just bowl in and get the lowdown.
The trio are so bad at it however they eventually get captured by Szass Tam, and keep in mind this guy has Vampires to pick up his socks, so what does he do- he gives our heroic trio a force of (over 100) undead troops to play with and orders them to go fetch Maligor.
The Druid's not a general (I doubt he's even had any experience), Wynter's actually an ex-slave plantation boss (sorta) so he might know what he's doing but he doesn't, and soon after for no easy to explain reason gets attacked and Feebleminded (don't worry, he gets better) by a Yellow Musk Creeper. Brenna has never been adventuring before, I may have already mentioned this.
But anyway, the trio get an army to play with- on pain of death, and worse- Szass is threatening to invade Aglarond. So, okay, I'll buy it- a little bit, but... but, oh it just doesn't get any better.
I'll not worry you with the rest of it, just a few highlights-
Galvin nearly loses it when he discovers that Maligor has been using innocent woodland creatures to make the Darkenbeasts, there's a scene in which he cries over a dead mole/bunny and then swears to kill Maligor. I get that he's a Druid but just out of the window two thirds of the population of Thay are slaves, beaten and broken, and... save the bunnies!
There's a Spirit Naga, tres tough- she gets killed by in three rounds, without the heroes breaking sweat.
The second coolest kids in the book are the Wraiths, I'd read a book about these guys, they sound like a barrel-of-laughs.
In truth I can't think of any more highlights, it's just... an incredible (by which I mean absolutely unbelievable) story that could have only played out around a gaming table, aided by a slew of natural '20's.
I'm not even sure I'm that convinced by the location- if Thay's all that- a paranoid playground for high powered (archmage) Red Wizards then how come our three heroes can march around the place looking (and acting) like they're doing their best not to fit in, and still keep their lives. Is Thay some sort of grand conspiracy- the Red Wizards are all evil bastards, while the populace merrily whistle happy tunes and help the kind folk on their way.
Oh, and Brenna falls in love with Galvin, because... he's such a hero/nice guy.
And of course they all escape to do it again, probably.
I'm really starting to dislike the Harpers. Greenwood's guys seem like they're born again bad, and about Level 12 when they're first sent in to action. This duo (like a couple of the other semi-flakes in this series (so far)) seem ideally suited to other occupations, they survive and thrive against all the odds- they're not particularly adept, or clever, or... they're the kids with 'A' for effort on their reports, but no actual qualifications.
I didn't like it.