D&D General I'm reading the Forgotten Realms Novels- #200 Ascendancy of the Last by Lisa Smedman (Lady Penitent 3)


The EN World kitten
I distinctly recall wanting to like this one, but not being able to, something I chalk up to what I said before about Elaine Cunningham's writing style.

From what (admittedly little) I remember, the book simply felt disjointed in its presentation. Taken in isolation, the plot progression, action sequences, and characterizations were all quite good. What didn't work for me was that they never felt like they really came together; you could almost hear the gears shifting as sequences changed. Having the right ingredients is important, but so is being able to mix and bake them correctly.

Liriel's ruminating on Fyodor's (I think it was Fyodor's) parable about "old favors are soon forgotten" serves as an example of this; while I can guess was that scene was supposed to accomplish (i.e. showing both her intellectual aptitude as well as her budding curiosity about non-drow people in general and Fyodor in particular), it came across as navel-gazing, in which she over-analyzed a comparatively unimportant "gotcha" moment (something you think the drow would be big on) of Fyodor's escaping capture...made all the more pointless by how she didn't seem interested in critiquing the minutia of other such interactions (lampshaded by that being one of the first times she met someone who wasn't a drow, but that still feels more like an excuse than an explanation). This is much the same issue I had with Cunningham's other series set in and around Waterdeep.

Of course, as you noted the sequence with Baba Yaga's hut at the beginning is ultimately pointless, something that I found off-putting. It was too reminiscent of Ed Greenwood's style of writing, where narrative cohesion is damaged by how so many things "just happen" in ways that, while not unbelievable for a high fantasy world, don't serve the story as a whole. Similarly, mighty characters, rather than being power-players with extensive influence over what happened anywhere in their general region, tend to be important only as long as Liriel and co. were within arm's reach of them. Once they got out of their vicinity, their impact on things seemed to drop precipitously. That's a generalization, of course, but the feel of it seemed to permeate this book.

I think I started on the sequel, but if I did I couldn't bring myself to finish it.
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#082 Tangled Webs by Elaine Cunningham (Starlight & Shadows 2)
Read 16/7/20 to 20/7/20

Forgotten Realms HB Tangled Webs (Star & Shadow 2) GOODa.JPG

Book 2- and I wanted to like it more, scratch that- I did like it more, but only at the beginning. I wondered if there could be a bit more action (I think I mean fighting/exploring dangerous places/action-sequences- the visceral stuff) in the last novel. Well, this one had a little of that, and the same neat characters (obviously) with their particular brands of inner turmoil, and so I was gripped... it didn't last. Or else halfway through and I was back to wanting more action. There's another great story in here, and a bunch more intrigue and back and forth- it's the Tangled Web after all, lots of players all with their pieces on the board, all in the game. Also some groovy monsters, particularly the Nereid and Kelpie, I'm always interested to see how other people play the bad guys. So, all in all- lots to enjoy, but...

Liriel is just as hardcore (how hardcore- too hardcore) and in the end, save for the working it all out- I loved Ibn by the way, then she's just too tough for anything the bad guys have in their locker. Fydor is a little more believable, but he seems to have taken the back seat (more so) and become a bit clay-like in his acceptance, or else he has a (silent, stoic) hissy fit and then Liriel backs up a way and goes and explains how sorry she is, but this is what needs to happen.

And thus it proves, time and time again.

Why did Hrolf have to die? He was by far (far far far) the best NPC in the book- and by that measure probably had to be the one to die. I miss Hrolf.

Again, and just to make clear- this is a well plotted novel, with tons of intrigue, well written and a genuine adventure (as it were). There are some great characters, stand outs for me- Hrolf, Ibn, Dagmar, Shakti, Xzorsh & the glorious Vestress. But, by about halfway through you get the feeling (or else I did) that the end was certain- that there was nothing the bad guys could do to stand against Liriel.

And I mean specifically- Liriel, she has morphed (slowly, perhaps inevitably) into a steely-eyed Drow Wizard multiclass Cleric, possibly a level of Fighter, and maybe one of Rogue for good measure. Oh and a few levels of Runecaster from some back of the collection 3rd edition splatbook.

So, she wins- if the bad guys hand her lemons, she makes lemonade.

At which point my interest began to wane, the inevitable comparison with Drizzt continues- he's brooding and a menace with a heart of cold/gold; while she's Spock-logic, with a cold heart- which she always, later, regrets. She's permanent- almost untouchable, even Lolth gets played. She uses things/people, she's always right, she twists every one of the bad guy's ploys to her purpose- she endures, she is inevitable.

And some of that is intriguing, but not enough- her soft spot is someone else, Fydor (and later on others- Look, the slaves are having a hard time). Perhaps it's because Drizzt got it from the start- I'm a Drow, that's bad- look what we have done/are still doing. I need to find a way to live with what I am, to escape what/where I am, or else to repurpose what I am- to serve the light (not the actual light you understand, you get my meaning).

With Liriel it's- I'm a Drow, wry smile- a little later a pang of regret.

Just less interesting to watch the slow progress of Liriel's story arc, while her powers seem to grow exponentially... guaranteeing that all who stand against her/in her way will inevitably fall.


Stay safe and well.

Just for info I'm going to read/listen to Windwalker- as in read along to the audio track, wont that be exciting.

We'll see how long that lasts.

Cheers goonalan


#083 Windwalker by Elaine Cunningham (Starlight & Shadows 3)
Read 21/7/20 to 27/7/20

Forgotten Realms Windwalker (Star & Shadow 3) GOODa.JPG

Book 3- and in a way this is the best of them, there's lots of action to be had and it's all well written, and with a certain amount of jeopardy- the action so is much more prevalent here, the big scrap at the end particularly- so, lots going on. Lots to admire, and to want more of... to read on.

That said, and you knew this was coming- it always does, there's a enormous amount going on here, by a which mean high level characters in action, in the plot/fight, it does seem to be a bit of a best off... guest starring... etc. Everyone is here/there for the end, and the end is a bit cinema... if you get me- he dies, she lives- she gets it (at last, possibly).

There's a bit of an issue earlier in the piece in which you get the feeling that Liriel, at last, has figured out a way to live, and to love- the issue being is she has to pretend to be a bit of a grump, the plot demands she retains her surly disposition just a while longer, to be aghast at how the humans behave. The other thing is there seems to be much less of Liriel in this one, and Fydor, there are so many other (name) folk and foes in the action that to give everyone a page or three then the central characters are going to get squeezed.

There's also lots of great stuff here from my game master's hat PoV, but snippets rather then an extended sojourn, I'd like to spend much more time in Rashemen, and see much more of the people here, it seems to be like no other place I have been to in Faerun (with these books) so far.

But instead of the hard yards there's a little more Hollywood here, what's with female ninja Zombies- how did we get here, no biggie, just odd.

So, a suitable finale, I'd have preferred it if Fydor lived on, I would have liked it if a few of the name characters got dropped, and maybe we got some more time with in/the Rashemen, and maybe even with Liriel & Fydor. The final fight was great, but it could have been a bit more visceral, a bit more bloody and nasty.

I liked it, but not enough to rave about it- the series, and this book. It's not Drizzt.



#084 Murder in Cormyr by Chet Williamson (Mysteries 1)
Read 28/7/20 to 1/8/20

Forgotten Realms HB Murder in Cormyr (Mysteries 1) NrMINTa.JPG

Well, that was different- and very easy (lite). So, a detective novel in which Benelaius does all the big thinking (ex-War Wizard from Cormyr) but our guy- the lead, ex-slop boy Jasper does all the legwork. There's enough here to make a nice story, although the realms thing is just the backdrop to a... well, a plain old detective story (sorta, see below).

There are issues- we follow Jasper exclusively, and yet Benelaius and his side-kick Lindavar are the ones that actually solve the murder mystery, and the pair barely get a look in until the end of the book. Which is odd, can you think of another detective novel in which the sleuth stays at home and just sends a constable out to do all of the legwork. I guess it's a choice, and there probably exists a similar detective novel, but odd.

"Poirot? Sorry, no- I'm the guy who cleans his smalls. Mind if I have a look around?"

The final solution to the murder mystery requires a little understanding of local politics, Sembia and the Iron Throne's machinations- this isn't something that is discussed at length in the novel, I don't think it is mentioned at all... prior to the grand revealing.

So, the ending's nice (and neat) but the solution isn't something the reader can really get to easily, or maybe I'm just not that bright.

Also, the mystery involves no magic (or anything fantasy fiction, much) so with all the realms to roam, any amount of mystical and magical devices then... there's none of that at all.

Which is doubly odd, when I think about it, because the two mystery solvers are both high level wizards.

In short it's set in the realms, but doesn't use anything much from the fantasy milieu or location.

There's the ghost (and the massively underpowered hydra), but I wont say anymore about these just in case you're going to give this one a go.

Last oddity, this is by far the shortest FR book that I have read so far- 247 pages in the hardback, and there's plenty of white space between the chapters, which makes it an incredibly easy/quick read.

All of the above caveats aside, I turned the pages tout suite because I was keen to get to the finale and the solution. It did it's job, not badly written- I'd probably prefer something a bit cleverer/visceral, and possibly with a gumshoe that I couldn't put down.

I like a good detective novel- I picked up an early Ian Rankin, 'Rebus' (mostly), and then bought all of the others and flew through them in about two months. Similar with Indridason (a fantastic study of the scandi-detective life), SJ Parris (Bruno- excellent central character for fantasy DMs who need a sleuth), and a bunch of the more obvious authors- Mankell, Dexter etc.


Stay safe.

Cheers goonalan

Which is odd, can you think of another detective novel in which the sleuth stays at home and just sends a constable out to do all of the legwork. I guess it's a choice, and there probably exists a similar detective novel, but odd.
Rex Stout’s “armchair detective” Nero Wolfe does exactly this—sends his assistant out to do any hands-on investigating, while the genius stays at home and cogitates. Classic quote: “I would be an idiot to leave this chair, made to fit me.” One of the best series from the golden age of detective fiction. I haven’t read Murder in Cormyr but dollars to donuts that’s what the author was imitating.


#085 Murder in Halruaa by Richard Meyers (Mysteries 2)
Read 2/8/20 to 5/8/20

Forgotten Realms HB Murder in Halruaa (Mysteries 2) NrMINTa.JPG

Book 2- actually book 3 in the Mysteries series but I'm only doing the Realms here, and... Halruaa is a silly place, I've heard of it of course- the magical kingdom with all the great new toys, and it's as daft as it sounds. I'm glad it went from the realms, although now it's back... I think, but in what form.

Another murder mystery to unravel, oddly I guessed the villain in the first fifty pages- but my choice of who to j'accuse was not an educated/deductive one, I based it on the age old Columbo technique, the bad guy is the one the protagonist meets first, and stands next to the detective for the longest, i.e. all the way through the piece.

There's a lot to dislike here, not that it wasn't an okay read- it only took 4-5 days to get through so there was impetus from somewhere, I think with the detective genre there's part of me that wants to get to the end for the following two reasons- 1) was I right, did I pick the killer, and 2) what cockamamie explanation is going to unfold to get this one done.

Well, I picked the killer early doors (go me) and the final explanation and its unfolding are as cockamamie as heck, so result- sorta.

To begin- how does Pryce Covington live in a hovel, it's all woe is me when all he is (or comes across as) is a well-spoken, incredibly well-educated, confident and used-to-privilege, prep school/posh kid tosser who has not suffered once in his sugar fed life. Or, at least, so it seemed to me. His friends, and many of the equally privileged others, when we get to meet them/hear about them, are equally unlikeable.

Point of fact there are lots of unlikeable (for me) characters in here. There's not one of the over-privileged squits I feel anything but revulsion for, they're a mixture of haughty, condescending, conniving and... well, and again, I'm probably just talking about the posh folk here. They're just not people I want to connect with, nor for that matter do I get the place- Halruaa. While the rest of the realms seems to be made up of a rag bag collection of dark corners inhabited by even darker creatures, Halruaa sits in magnificent self-imposed isolation- we want nothing from you, it screams.

It's like someone (a game designer) wanted a bit of Eberron, although now that I've written that I bet I'll find out that Halruaa preceded Eberron by about a decade (maybe). I just didn't like the place.

I also didn't like the fact that this book seemed to glory in class motifs, the underclass are either incredibly beautiful (Sheyren) and the Jackalwere (played like a below stairs flunky) but with a heart-of-gold, or incredibly ugly- the mongrelman, Devolawk; but with- you guessed it, a heart of gold. The posh folk are just ghastly, full of conceit and for the most part- bile. Halruaa maybe depicted as a magical paradise but if the novel is anything to go by then its just another dystopia in which the rich and powerful do what they wanna and mostly get away with it.

Then there's Darlington Blade, he's nine parts plot bearing/unfolding genius- he instantly knows how and why, although the explanation will come later (much later), he's a master detective and... that would be great, except the one part flashy showman just makes me think he's even more of a toff. Don't get me wrong- he has a heart, and he's the bridge between many groups here- a (so they say) pauper that takes on the mantle/cloak of the greatest wizard, an outsider, a connection between the monstrous and the civilised (wouldn't you know- the civilised turn out to be monstrous, and the monsters turn out to be very civil). So, he's the link.

But I hate him, for his easy (public school) charm, his affable nature, and his inherent confidence.

Again, the writing is good- I don't want you to think that this is a badly written book, silly- in places, when you sit it against the rest of the canon, but ably done, it's just I'd like to burn the place down (Halruaa) and all the people in it (or something less vicious, maybe just make them/it go away).


Oh, and just for info I stated earlier that after the first year of concentrated realms reading I would take things a little easier, and would slow down the pace- reading a real book in-between each FR novel. So, I finished this one yesterday afternoon (5/8/20) and then picked up Michael Palin's North Korea Journal (I got bought it for Christmas) and finished reading that one maybe 90 minutes later (it's very short). Break done- back to the realms.
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Personally, I loved Elaine Cunningham's novels. They're some of my favorite "classics" of the Realms. Her Evermeet: Island of Elves novel is still one of my FR faves. I think she has a lyrical writing style. It was so refreshing to read about Eilistraeens and Vhaeraunites, and I thought Liriel was a great character.

But, we all have our preferences. I've been a Realms fan since 2005, having been introduced through The Crystal Shard. I haven't read every single novel (so kudos to you for going through them all!), but I've read a decent chunk, probably around 194 or so, so I know I'm missing some. I've been immersed in the world for a good while though.

I don't know if you're aware (sorry, new to ENworld, so I just found this thread), but some of the later novels are ebook only. It made me get a Kindle lol.
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Halruaa has been around since the Realms has been around, so your estimate of a decade before Eberron is off by around a couple of decades.

And you'll have a whole Halruaa trilogy coming up in the Counselors & Kings novels (which I found far more enjoyable than this).


#086 Realms of the Underdark Anthology Ed. J Robert King
Read 6/8/20 to 9/8/20

Forgotten Realms Realms of the Underdark Anthology NrMINTa.JPG

I rushed through this one too, that must mean that I liked it, or else some of it- there's one story in here that made my heart zip and sing, it was so good that when I realised that I only had maybe 10 pages to go I had to make myself go and do something else (the washing up, as it happens) just to preserve the ending- to eke out the greatness, and to silently mumble a prayer or two- 'don't mess it up now, let it be fantastic until the very end'. It didn't disappoint, it was glorious- one small story that encompassed, well... the Underdark, possibly the best FR story that I have read so far.

I think Drizzt just got knocked off the top spot, in my mind.

Screw that- I know it, I'm certain- Drizzt, on my list of all time fave FR characters, just got bumped from first to third.


That happened fast- I may have to read the story in question again, just to make sure.

Anyway, here's how it happened-

The anthology contains just five stories, they are-

The Fires of Narbondel, by Mark Anthony- we're back to Zaknafein (Do'Urden Swordmaster with a conscience- Drizzt's dad) and it's the usual fear and loathing in Menzo, and great, and you can see (better) how we get to the dual scimitar wielding Drow topsider (Drizzt) he's just an extension of his old man- a progression. Again, it's worth repeating- it's great, to read and to see the lineage in action. There's even the moment here when father and son realise that they are, well... father and son- or at least Zak gets it. They're so alike, but Drizzt, even at the age of eleven(-ish, from memory) the Page Prince is better, faster, stronger (in mind) than his old feller already. Read this story, it makes things make more sense- I knew a lot of this info from the previous Drizzt novels, but now I have read it and seen it for myself.

A Slow Day in Skullport, by Ed Greenwood- odd when you put this story alongside the others here you really get to appreciate how bad it is, or else- they are, the Greenwood magi-mix of overpowered super villains come to do battle with the usual (but different) mixture of middle-aged, bumbling and paunchy males and their coterie of (ex-)aunjanue, super-sexy (with a thing for older guys) adherent women. The one liners are the worst, although that's a crowded field. Sorry, but I didn't like it. Silly.

Rite of Blood, by Elaine Cunningham- and I promise you I can see why people (here) really like her work- it's well crafted, and 'lyrical', and... just great. The story is slow-burn, and suitably twisty- and with nice characters, Liriel before she became an anime/manga super-tank-girl, so that's all good. But it's not that visceral (bloody), everybody hurts in here- but I don't see it, even Greenwood (in some of his earlier stuff is more on the nose). When your one to one with the big bad guy (Red Wizard/Xandra) I want to feel the pain, and for it to be to the wire- this is perhaps the closest I've read/seen to what I want (the key word there is 'I', I'm talking about me, and not you) but it's not dirty enough.

Also, at the back of my mind I can't get over the fact that Liriel (like Drizzt, sorta- he's a male, and therefore not of the ruling sex) is just another posh, privileged, super-powered, supremely confident, rich kid who is just, well... typical. She gets knocked down (hardly) she gets back up again, or else when push comes to shove- she has a spell, or a magic item, or... well, something already supplied. She wins because of her cleverness, sure- but also because from the age of four she's been let loose in the toy shop of power. She has everything she wants (material etc) and everything she needs (subject to the hole in her heart/life explored later).

Then there's the masterpiece...

Sea of Ghosts, by Roger E Moore- is the best bit of FR writing that I have come across so far, it's... everything Liriel (and Drizzt) isn't. It's the story of two underpowered (sorta) denizens of the Underdark, both recently escaped from slavery (of the Drow), who are both broken inside (for a variety of reasons). One of whom is damned to tell lies, the other damned to tell the truth. It is nasty (visceral), bloody, and terrifying- it is, quite possibly, the Underdark in a nutshell (geode, maybe). The common folk, the unwanted, the forgotten- a Deep Gnome and a Derro go on a quest together... sorta.

Just... stunningly well written, and gripping, and real- that could be me (circa the Forgotten Realms being swapped out for our present pre-apocalyptic milieu), I'm never going to be Drizzt or Liriel (I was born on a council estate), I didn't have 'stuff' when I was a kid (I had my imagination however), but in my heart of heart I know I could be Wykar, I only wish I could be Geppo.

Then the last offering- a semi-funny one, that's actually not too bad, it's called Volo Does Menzo, by Brian M Thomsen, in which more characters with names that sound like real world fictional/people find their way to Menzo, that's nice- and then back again. The pay off (I'll not spoil it, but his name is dynamite) arrives early, the rest is the telling of the joke. But y'know- I didn't mind it, it does what it says on the tin.

So, great book- some much better than average tales to be found here, and one in particular that will stay with me for a good long while.



#087 Sword Play by Clayton Emery (Netheril 1)
Read 12/8/20 to 15/8/20

Forgotten Realms Sword Play (Netheril 1) FAIRGOODa.JPG

Well, where to begin- the Netherese are indeed a silly empire of earth mote style castles and the like, the foremost practitioners of magic, able to keep their floating empire aloft and to visit death and destruction on the inhabitants of the lands below. This book then was always going to slide towards the epic, which is a difficult thing to do, and almost never works out well.

Epic in its use of high-powered magic, and its epic locations, and enemies therein. I find epic level play (in game) very difficult to get right, this novel, perhaps, demonstrates why.

Oh, and we're back in the early days of Faerun, at least in comparison with the majority of the other novels- the Arcane Age, as the cover states.

So, Sunbright is a barbarian trying to follow in his (shaman) father's footsteps, off from his tribe (after they plotted to kill him- it takes a lot of remembering but right back in the beginning there's a prophecy that Sunbright will have a hand in the destruction of his community). The barbarian wanders into the wilds armed only with his (dead) father's magical sword- Harvester; alas he then becomes the unwitting pawn in the ongoing wager between two Netherese apprentice mages- Candlemas and Sysquemalyn. The pair of apprentices (although both are chock full of magic- apprentices only in comparison to their epic epic epic level mistress- Lady Polaris) decide to make a series of nasty bets regarding the fate of the simple 'mud man' (ah, we're doing racism here) Sunbright, setting the poor barbarian on the road to epic destiny and/or disaster.

Candlemas wants Sunbright to win through (just to win his bet, don't start thinking he's that bothered about the barbarian) while Sysquemalyn throws everything she's got at Sunbright in an effort to kill- the wager is... whoever wins gets to rip the arm off the loser, see- silly already. later the ante gets upped, but- we'll get to that, possibly.

Sunbright meets Greenwillow, a beautiful and deadly elf sent by Cormanthyr to deliver a message to the One King, an uppity surface dwelling tyrant that gets mashed into the story later. The pair fall, inevitably, in love- although there's plenty of kicking against it before we get to the final loving embrace. The final loving embrace being rather more final than either desires- Greenwillow gives her life to save Sunbright (oh, sorry- SPOILER) although this is a trilogy, so who's to say- maybe she'll be back.

Anyway, Sunbright is set a series of escalating challenges- from defeating a pack of Orcs (and men), fighting a Remorhaz (he gets help- but he has a good go at the beast), to venturing to the court of the One King to tell him where to get off. The two betting apprentice mages interfere at every instant, with Sysquemalyn even playing the part of spare wheel (very dangerous = very exciting) love rival for a good while.

The One King turns out to be a lich, therefore with a little help Sunbright co-opts/cons an ancient red dragon (Wrathburn) to expose/destroy the undead tyrant, a city and much of its populous (no doubt) are also destroyed in the process.

Then we switch to Sysquemalyn's private (pirated) hell, and go fighting Pit Fiends and ten varieties of other fiends in an ever changing cruel landscape.

Then... then... well, much more of the same, except at about this point the four names in the book have all decided to play nicely and to work together. The inevitable deus ex machina is, of course, Lady Polaris who steps in at the end to rescue the three (Greenwillow is presumed dead at this point).

Here's the thing, Sunbright is better than any other of the mugging barbarians depicted in the FR novels I have read so far, certainly much more coherent and likable than Wulfgar. At the start, when he's doing his thing- a simple lad learning to survive in a very hostile world, then... he's great. Actually, he's pretty great throughout, as is- very mostly, Greenwillow. The bad-crazy-epic stuff could have possibly been ridden out, and enjoyed more, if it wasn't for the presence of the two dopey apprentices, and the fact that much of it is their doing.

There are obviously plenty of lessons to be learned along the way- the 'mud men'/humans are far more resilient/good/worthy than the Netherese suspected, elves can love humans, Sunbright learns to not want (perhaps) the thing he wants and in the process grows up. Also, we should all learn to work together.

I loved the start of this novel, but then it just turned into an epic bad ass shooting gallery, they all (mostly) got played by Sunbright (with a little help from the raven/Candlemas and Greenwillow). The determination of Sunbright and Greenwillow shines through, their desire to save someone other than themselves is massively apparent, the fact that the reader is expected to believe that the two Netherese apprentices have learned their lesson by the end is... less convincing.

Obviously Sunbright has also put on about 15 levels during the course of the adventure, going to toe-to-toe with waves of ice devils, erinyes etc. by the last.

So, the Netherese empire must fall (hubris, mainly) that I know from the history of the realms, I guess its going to happen here- in this trilogy, but I could be wrong. Well, good- they're all terrible people (eating up all the magic/resources etc.). The weirdest thing are however the Phaerimm, spinning elemental vortices of hate that live underground, they are uber silly- and their whispering meetings that bookend this venture obviously indicate that they will be back for more in the later instalments.

I don't know- what happened to just telling a great story, why not ramp up the threat in other ways- why go Orc, Remorhaz, Lich, Ancient Red Dragon, Pit Fiend with large slice of Hell-full-'o'-terrifying-(CR 10+) minions. It's all a bit much, but y'know- the Netherese, you need an enemy worthy of Lady Polaris in the end.

Well written, mostly- it dashes around like a headless chicken at times, and exciting, but... ultimately disappointing, I just want the Netherese dead now, overlords (whatever their flavour/shade) just suck. I also fear that we're going to have to top this one in the next with the imported enemy terror, oh dear... Greenwillow must be coming back, and before then Sysquemalyn will escape her hell- or some such. But that's just me taking a punt, I could be very wrong.

It's all very AD&D, and not even the good/great scenarios from that edition, the change the world with a dice roll sucky stuff.


I read the Nethril trilogy last year. I've read plenty of Realms novels, but I'd never gotten around to reading that one. I'd heard a lot about Karsus and such from lore and forum discussions, and about the Nethril trilogy in general. I was imagining something truly epic going in. It was...not what I expected. I was actually kind of disappointed.


The EN World kitten
And we're finally back to Realms books that I've read! Though once again, it's been quite a while here, so forgive me any glossing over I may do.

The trouble with commenting on this book is that it's very hard to keep it to this book; this particular trilogy peaks early, with the second book in the series being the most memorable by far. Compared to it, this one seems like one long lead-in, and the third comes across as something of an extended epilogue. That's not entirely fair, of course, but that's the consequence of having the most epic of epic shenanigans happen in book two while books one and three try to be more up-close and personal with the stakes (comparatively speaking).

What came across most strongly in this book were the personalities. The array of enemies they faced simply didn't feel like they formed an overarching plot, but rather a set of backdrops for the characters to play off of each other. To put it another way, the plot of the book was rather weak, and it relied on the characters themselves to keep the story together. In this, it did a fairly decent job, though not enough to entirely compensate for the story's shortcomings. It's almost like they were rolling on random encounter tables the entire time, with the banter and interactions being the part that everyone remembers later. I particularly liked Candlemas' overall progression (though I may be thinking across the entire trilogy here) as he starts to realize just how callous his society is, whereas Sysquemalyn leans hard the other way. Sunbright and Greenwillow didn't have quite the same level of growth (or perhaps not the same artful depiction of it).

One thing worth noting about this series is that it was very clearly written in conjunction with Arcane Age: Netheril: Empire of Magic (warning: affiliate link), a product whose title has always irritated me for using two colons; is that grammatically acceptable? Ahem. The list of personalities in that boxed set includes almost all of the major characters we see in this series, and their descriptions are very accurate to not only how they act, but recap the events of this trilogy. It's one of the more blatant product tie-ins for the Realms, even if the accompanying adventure How the Mighty Are Fallen (warning: affiliate link) has nothing to do with the books (despite having yet another lich-lord in it).

I will say that I found the phaerimm to be adequate in their depiction as a quasi-society of genius uber-magic monsters, but given that I'd read all about them - including and especially their impressive game-stats - long before I read this trilogy, I was kind of primed to think well of them in that regard anyway.


#088 Dangerous Games by Clayton Emery (Netheril 2)
Read 20/8/20 to 26/8/20

Forgotten Realms Dangerous Games (Netheril 2) GOODa.JPG

Book 2- and more of the same but a little/lot better (in places). We're catapulted with Sunbright and Candlemas into the future- 300 and something years, for exact numbers look up the end of the Netheril empire, oops- SPOILERS. Into the (floating magical dystopian) city of Karsus, ruled by... Karsus- take a left at Karsus Park, onto the Karsus Interchange for Karsus Field, home of the fighting Karsusonians, yer get it.

As Alzrius said in his review/post above, this book is more coherent- this is the issue, dystopian hell hole ruled by megalomaniac tyrant etc. one love interest each, crash the empire (or watch it happen) and at the last moment get the hell off the floating/crashing island. In a nutshell- sorry, spoilers.

It's better then the last one because it's more of the same, rather than more of something else that equates to the same- which was the first one. It's also better because Candlemas and Sunbright are at heart sensible fellows, and down to earth- and the voices of reason, so we like them. It's better because while Candlemas spends time with Karsus and the nobles/archmages, and sees and points at the terrible things that they do;. Then we have Sunbright who is doing the same thing except looking up from the bottom of the pile. The barbarian meets Knucklebones and then is dragged along with her gang and their adventures- the poor and downtrodden.

That works, and again there's nothing too much to dislike, except the hubris of Netheril, and that's exactly what we should be feeling/doing. It's not a stunner, because the story is going places that have already been predicted (and are obviously obvious). No surprises here.

There are some good bits on the journey, particularly the moment when Sunbright gets killed (almost) by the giant/odd corrupted forest Lich-thing, but then comes back as... Dun-Dun-Derrr… the SHAMAN!

The Bbn goes from pithy one liners mixed in with stating the obvious, to more of the same with an added my words are prophecy, he doesn't however get any more up himself- still down to earth, the lessons learned way back then- the tree lives and then it dies, and from its death the forest thrives. Still true. Magic has a price.

So, bang on- nice, but not a great novel- some good characters, a good-ish story, but... Netheril, like Halruaa- it's not for my game, except maybe only to feature its destruction. The poor are very poor, and to be pitied- as always, and admired for their stoic etc. but the rest of them- arseholes, destruction was too good for them.


Can't think where we're going in the next one, as Alzrius said above- the epilogue, we all (eventually) live happily ever after, maybe- the Knucklebones/Greenwillow will play out somehow, and Candlemas will probably get his long lost love back, or similar- maybe.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan


The EN World kitten
And this book is really what the trilogy is all about. As much as it tries to bill itself as "the story of Sunbright and co.," I strongly suspect that the real attraction for many fans of the Realms was "come watch the explosive ending of Netheril, up close and personal," since by this point the events of Karsus's Folly were well-known.

I'll go ahead and note right off the bat that the Karsus's avatar spell was given game statistics, presented in the Netheril boxed set mentioned in my previous post and again in Powers & Pantheons in the entry for Karsus, who's included there since he is technically a deity, albeit one in a state of perpetual living death similar to what happens when Darkseid hits someone with the Omega Effect. Rather oddly, while the wiki page linked to above asserts that the spell's original presentation (in the Netheril boxed set) suggested that the spell was always of limited duration, I can't seem to find anything corroborating that in the text itself. Insofar as I know, the first suggestion that the spell's duration was "limited" was in the P&P entry.

Of course, the whole "after Netheril fell, 11th- and 12th-level spells were removed from the realm of mortal achievement" bit became rather problematic in D&D Third Edition thanks to certain quirks of epic progression. In fact, according to the Epic Level Handbook, Halaster Blackcloak actually took that feat enough to gain a 12th-level spell slot. But, as Lost Empires of Faerun would tell us later, it was no coincidence that even though you could have high-level spell slots, there were no actual 10th-level or higher spells, just lower-level spells that you could bump up with metamagic feats. Oh, and "epic spells", which LEoF said were basically only used as "elven high magic," despite those being entirely different in their AD&D 2E presentation a la Cormanthyr: Empire of the Elves.

But I digress (clearly).

The story itself is fairly straightforward, though getting to see Karsus himself is quite notable. While his personality is given a brief description in the boxed set, this is where we get to see him in all his glory, being like GIR from Invader Zim except without any of the restraints that broadcast standards require characters to have. The fact that he's the only one who detected the phaerimm makes this funnier, because who's going to believe the guy who turns people into jelly for fun when he says that magic whirlwind-creatures who live underground are plotting against him?

I frowned at seeing how Wulgreth was depicted, though. I mean, I get that there are already enough "ancient Netherese liches" out there, what with the Larloch, Aumvor, the lich lord from the previous novel, and the one in How the Mighty Are Fallen (linked to previously) all running around. Plus the guys from the Shade enclave (who aren't liches, but are thematically close enough), which we'll get to later. Still, Wulgreth was supposed to be a notable arcanist in his own right, who even after becoming a lich put into motion a scheme to destroy the cult that sprung up around Karsus shortly after the fall of Netheril (albeit limited to the city of Karse). So why is he depicted as basically being an undead gorilla here, hooting and beating his chest and leering at Knucklebones? That just came across as wrong to me.

Beyond that, the book does a decent enough job showing the utter decadence that Netheril falls into. Food riots being common, even as Lady Polaris has eaten herself into a blimp? Check. Experimenting on human prisoners as part of magical research? Check. There's really no stereotype of "total social collapse" that isn't used here, short of having actual barbarians at the gates. Or is that Sunbright's role here? Either way, the book's portrayal of the place is about as heavy-handed as can be, though to be fair a lot of this had been implied in previous works for a while. Even so, with the heroes being time-travelers for whom this is the future, you'd wonder if the thought of changing things Back to the Future-style ever so much as crosses their mind, though I suppose that's what the third book is for.

(Spoiler alert: they don't. The game lore is too valuable to discard so easily.)

Please note that all of the DrivethruRPG links given above are affiliate links.

Wasteland Knight

A Slow Day in Skullport, by Ed Greenwood- odd when you put this story alongside the others here you really get to appreciate how bad it is, or else- they are, the Greenwood magi-mix of overpowered super villains come to do battle with the usual (but different) mixture of middle-aged, bumbling and paunchy males and their coterie of (ex-)aunjanue, super-sexy (with a thing for older guys) adherent women. The one liners are the worst, although that's a crowded field. Sorry, but I didn't like it. Silly.

This is the perfect “hitting the nail on the head” quote for my biggest dislikes of the Realms.

I do like the Realms overall. I’m running a campaign in the Lake of Steam region right now. But I find the less “Greenwooded” the area of the Realms, the better.

Kudos on this undertaking. I’ve read a fair number of the FR books. There are some good reads in the mix, and done absolute garbage.


#089 Mortal Consequences by Clayton Emery (Netheril 3)
Read 29/8/20 to 1/9/20

Forgotten Realms Mortal Consequences (Netheril 3) NrMINTa.JPG

Book 3- and here's the thing- more of the same but in a way (many ways) a lot better than what has come before. This is the epilogue story, what's left after the Netheril empire has been destroyed, although this one takes place back in the past. Yeah, bit of a head-stretch but, y'know- it kinda works.

This one's better because the mad Netherese (see previous) are mostly scurrying around in the background, there's the odd glimpse of the super-mages and their floating/flying cities, and their all conquering (not) armies, and Polaris is back, but... this one isn't really about that. The big bad is... SPOILER, Sysquemalyn, but you should figure that very quickly. The terror has spent the last three years or so, forgotten about, in her own private hell- and now she's back, and pissed.

Not particularly pissed at the right people, Sunbright wasn't the cause of her downfall- obviously, in reality, Sysquemalyn is/was the cause of Sysquemalyn's downfall- ain't it always the way. Hubris my friend, hubris.

All that aside this then is the story of Sunbright striving to do the right thing- to become a Shaman, to steer his tribe to pastures new, and to learn to forget Greenwillow and to open his heart to Knucklebones. As usual the finale is a little disappointing- particularly the Greenwillow/Knucklebones work out- they're the same person, sort of (oh... SPOILERS!). But the story, the action, that's all absolutely lovely- Sunbright is still the ultimo 'do the right thing' good guy, Knucklebones is still cheeky, chirpy, sassy and up for the fight. This pair are just good/great characters, they're interesting and have stories that are worth pursuing to the end. Simply put, I like 'em.

So, the pain and despair of Sunbright & Knucklebones as they chase the tribe, then the pair trying to kick the tribe into gear- they're a miserable bunch of ingrates, and finally dwarves and elves, and bad guys- Orcs et al, Sysquemalyn's tribe, and quickly to the finale... the big bad and terror extreme.

It just works, and its well written- much easier on the page than the other two, and infinitely more believable than Karsus and his sycophant mob et al.

Read, and not bad at all.
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The EN World kitten
This is the prologue story

I think you meant epilogue, but otherwise yeah. While it's obvious that the final book in the trilogy has to wrap everything up, the smaller stakes are left with the unenviable task of holding up after the explosive ending of the previous book. To my mild surprise, it actually does this fairly well, for the same reason that the first book wasn't too bad: the characters are entertaining in their own right, and the book puts them front and center without going overboard about it.

I'll maintain that this trilogy comes across as odd, at least in terms of plot progression, simply because of the tonal shift in the middle of the series. You can't have comparatively low-stakes character-building adventures at the beginning and end while also having an apocalyptic disaster involving the gods themselves in the middle. That sort of contrast works great if you're an Oreo cookie, but not a three-book series. It's to Clayton Emery's credit that this works as well as it does, mostly because he tries to make this "the story of Sunbright and friends" the entire way through, putting the focus on them and how they're reacting and growing to what's happening around them even when Karsus and his wacky pals try to steal the show.

The issue with Knucklebones literally being Greenwillow reborn brings up some weird metaphysics, since D&D has always had some issues with reincarnation that doesn't happen as a result of a spell of the same name. In Fifth Edition elves are reincarnated as a matter of course (if I recall Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes correctly), but that wasn't the case back in AD&D. It's doubly weird to remember that the Netheril: Empire of Magic boxed set (linked to in a previous post) flat-out said "use these rules for characters living prior to Netheril's end, then use the AD&D 1E rules, then use Second Edition after the Time of Troubles." Plus the issue of an elven soul being reborn as a half-elf. Did the elven gods (being a racial pantheon and all) sign off on that? If so, you think they'd give a wink and a nudge to those elves who lean into the whole "racial purity" thing that seems to come up now and again.

Having said all of that, this book does come to a well-deserved ending for the good guys, especially since not everyone survives. Sunbright and Knucklebones really come across as having earned their happily ever after, which is something I fully appreciate. Those two went through Hell (even if it was a plagiarized version of it), so it was nice to see them come out the other side of it all stronger and wiser for it.


The limited duration was mentioned several times in the descriptive text throughout the box set, but left out in the mechanical write up of the spell. The second write up in P&P fixed that

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