D&D General I'm reading the Forgotten Realms Novels- #202 The Howling Delve by Jaleigh Johnson (Dungeons 2)


Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
For the Drow team- Vierna's gone to Lloth, Entreri is presumed dead- so, not dead at all then, while Jarlaxle has a broken leg, and is still telling jokes- and smirking in his stupid hat. I love that Drow.

I also very much like Jarlaxle. I really think the TV Trope Xanatos Gambit should be Jarlaxle Gambit.

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

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

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

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

A bit Meh!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



No rule is inviolate
Read the Parched Sea when I was a teen and moreso than the other Harper books, didn't have a clue at the time it wasn't too original. It was a fast read, very few dull moments, with that "against the odds" feel. Was nice to see a different part of the world than medieval Europe (albeit the white man rescuing the natives was lame even then). I Liked that Ruha wasn't a 2-D character (she still adhered to many customs) and Kadumi, while frustrating, was believable. But, otherwise, when faced with a word count on a genre novel, you get what you get.

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


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

Dire Bare

In truth, I don't think I've ever enjoyed an Ed Greenwood novel. The man has an incredibly fertile imagination, but his characters and his pacing always leave me cold.

In my opinion, Greenwood is a master world-builder . . . . but a mediocre narrative storyteller (novelist). He's achieved a status akin to Gygax himself where folks put him up on a pedestal as the originator of the Realms, but his presence in the industry outweighs his talent. YMMV, of course, he has many fans. The creation of the Forgotten Realms itself (as a detailed and robust fantasy setting) is a masterpiece, even before you add in the contributions of other authors and game designers.

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


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

I can't believe I didn't even make that connection, OMG.

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

Cheers Goonalan


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

Forgotten Realms Elfshadow (Harpers 2) a.JPG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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