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

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Another day, another Harper book that I read once and then never came back to. Which seems appropriate, as a lot of these featured characters who, after they rode off into the sunset, were never seen again (save for perhaps in the Heroes Lorebook supplement).

Honestly, the character that sticks out in my mind from this book best is Krote, and that's largely because it's extremely rare to see a gnoll hero in any of these books. The only other one that comes to mind is Orvago, from The Silver Stair, and that's a Dragonlance novel (which is also rather dubious, since I'm not sure that gnolls are supposed to exist on Krynn, the same way that orcs don't). Of course, it's also notable that Krote worships Gorellik, the actual gnoll deity who's largely been displaced by the demon lord Yeenoghu among gnolls, so good on the author for doing his homework there.

Beyond that, I seem to recall that Vreesar was actually a gelugon (i.e. an ice devil, as in a devil from the Nine Hells, and a high-ranking one at that), which makes his threat level a little more credible than being just some ice paraelemental. Even so, this was the sort of issue that made the Realms feel a bit overpowered compared to a lot of other settings; "there's a planar rift opening, and hostile creatures are coming through. Let's send a mid-ranking character or two to deal with it." Clearly, Harper command has more important stuff to focus on, right?
 

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Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
#058 Elfsong by Elaine Cunningham (Harpers 8 + Songs & Swords 2)
Read 9/3/20 to 14/3/20


Forgotten Realms Elfsong (Harpers 8) a.JPG

Book 8- and... it's very worthy- well written and all that, and I'm still liking Danilo Thann a lot, sure he's a self-deprecating (more-so in this one) smart arse who can do anything (anything at all) really well- and for all of this he remains very likeable. Elaith Craulnober is just the dog's doo-dahs (still). Yet, for all that... I wasn't that bothered about this one really, truth be told- I know I oughta be, but... nah.

The chase was okay, the threat slightly less so, but we'll get to that- I enjoyed Vartain the Riddlemaster, and the associated Bards that are also on the journey- special thanks go to Morgalla for being the best female Dwarven PC I've met so far in these books (from memory), even the Serpent's mercenary chief falls for her.

The rum point seemed to be the central plot in its entirety, Bards gone bad- Elfsong needs to be put on a pedestal, or else... well, what exactly- Magic needed putting in its place. It was all a little bit unconvincing- kinda, that's the plot- are you sure. Nutty Half-Elven Elfsinger/Sorcerer grabs magic harp and makes up some choons to mock/bad mouth the Harpers, and Khelben Arunsun etc. It's a way to go to arrive at the plot presented here as the solution to anything much. Same with the co-opted other bad folk- Hhune seemed to be a giggle (and suitably nasty with it) but we didn't get to see enough of him, and Lady Thione is a liability from the get-go. The bad guys seem to be not up to the job, and they make mistakes aplenty, although Garnet packs a punch.

Then there's the ending, which is over in a flash- although maybe not a flash, there's fifty or so pages of wonderless wanderings before a hop... skip... and a jump, we're at the end- just like that, and the Green deus ex-machina (maybe/maybe not- you decide) figures out that s/he's been duped... and game over.

Too much chatter, too much twisty-turny plot, these books are almost universally 312 pages long each- there are two to three dozen characters with something more than a walk-on in this, and everyone has a story to tell. Again, no problems with the writing, only the meh plot and the fact that the villains (save Garnet- maybe) are really not up to much. It just feels like a much longer book (with too little action) that has been squeezed to fit the contract.

Elaith Craulnober is the nastiest person in the book by a country mile, and he turns out to be looking out for his infant daughter in the end, and prepared to give his life.

Read.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
#058 Elfsong by Elaine Cunningham (Harpers 8 + Songs & Swords 2)
Read 9/3/20 to 14/3/20


View attachment 119927

Book 8- and... it's very worthy- well written and all that, and I'm still liking Danilo Thann a lot, sure he's a self-deprecating (more-so in this one) smart arse who can do anything (anything at all) really well- and for all of this he remains very likeable. Elaith Craulnober is just the dog's doo-dahs (still). Yet, for all that... I wasn't that bothered about this one really, truth be told- I know I oughta be, but... nah.

The chase was okay, the threat slightly less so, but we'll get to that- I enjoyed Vartain the Riddlemaster, and the associated Bards that are also on the journey- special thanks go to Morgalla for being the best female Dwarven PC I've met so far in these books (from memory), even the Serpent's mercenary chief falls for her.

The rum point seemed to be the central plot in its entirety, Bards gone bad- Elfsong needs to be put on a pedestal, or else... well, what exactly- Magic needed putting in its place. It was all a little bit unconvincing- kinda, that's the plot- are you sure. Nutty Half-Elven Elfsinger/Sorcerer grabs magic harp and makes up some choons to mock/bad mouth the Harpers, and Khelben Arunsun etc. It's a way to go to arrive at the plot presented here as the solution to anything much. Same with the co-opted other bad folk- Hhune seemed to be a giggle (and suitably nasty with it) but we didn't get to see enough of him, and Lady Thione is a liability from the get-go. The bad guys seem to be not up to the job, and they make mistakes aplenty, although Garnet packs a punch.

Then there's the ending, which is over in a flash- although maybe not a flash, there's fifty or so pages of wonderless wanderings before a hop... skip... and a jump, we're at the end- just like that, and the Green deus ex-machina (maybe/maybe not- you decide) figures out that s/he's been duped... and game over.

Too much chatter, too much twisty-turny plot, these books are almost universally 312 pages long each- there are two to three dozen characters with something more than a walk-on in this, and everyone has a story to tell. Again, no problems with the writing, only the meh plot and the fact that the villains (save Garnet- maybe) are really not up to much. It just feels like a much longer book (with too little action) that has been squeezed to fit the contract.

Elaith Craulnober is the nastiest person in the book by a country mile, and he turns out to be looking out for his infant daughter in the end, and prepared to give his life.

Read.

There's one more Silver Shadows.

Elaine was one of the better FR authors.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I know I keep saying this, but this was yet another book that I read once and then just sort of shrugged and walked away, and that my perceptions of it are therefore colored by something like twenty-plus years of neglect.

There's a section in this book where Vartain (a riddlemaster) unravels some long, overly-complicated riddle, only to be flummoxed when he gets the old "why did they bury the king in a copper coffin?" conundrum wrong. That really summarizes this entire book; it seems overly complicated (to the point of flirting with pretentiousness) for what it wants to do. Garnet is some old elven lady who's changed her identity and wants revenge on the Harpers for...some reason, and so she decides to go on a negative ad blitz against them and Khelben in Waterdeep. I suppose there was more to it than that, something about that green dragon (who eventually just seems to get fed up with the whole thing and goes back to the forest near the end of the book), but really that's all it seemed like.

Really, the entire book is about campaigning. I don't mean like a D&D campaign, but rather the campaigning that politicians do. Garnet is out to make Khelben and the Harpers look bad. Danilo and Arilyn and company are trying to counter the public's negative mindset. Morgalla has god-tier political cartooning skills. Vartain is the consultant who knows everything about his narrow field of expertise and nothing outside of it. And of course, like all such campaigns, it seems dramatic if you're invested in it and ridiculously overwrought if you're not.

Reading this was like watching characters play an elaborate chess game, when all someone needed to do to win was just upend the board.
 



Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
#059 Crown of Fire by Ed Greenwood (Harpers 9 + Shandrill's Saga 2)
Read 14/3/20 to 16/3/20


Forgotten Realms Crown of Fire (Harpers 9) a.JPG

Book 9- and sorry, but I liked this one as well, I get that it's Ed Greenwood, and sometimes his books are a sprawling whatever but, on the whole, I heartily recommend a little more Shandril in your life. Like the first book in the series (Spellfire) there's an excess of bad/good guys, and things (many many things) going on (all of the time), and walk-on parts for another dozen or more peek-a-boo characters. It's a rambling, shambling adventure story about the time Shandril turned the tables on the Zhent and took a trip (actually several trips) to their backyard- and started taking names and kicking ass.

I'll admit it, I'm not ashamed- I like me a bit of hot Zhent action (hot courtesy of the Spellfire). There's even a turn or two (but not much more) of Torm and Rathan- and I love those two guys. The star of the show however is, of course, Mirt the Moneylender- the guy knows everybody, and all about whatever it is your asking after. He somehow manages however to be all knowing without sounding like a creepy ass like Elminster. I've a predilection for heroes that are middle-aged, paunchy and that are au fait with the better things in life- good company, good cheer etc.

Oh, and this one sprawled and rambled over 370 pages, and I prefer that too; and better still there's a beautiful colour map in the edition I read, and that's mighty fine also. I like keeping up with events and following the heroes trail on the map.

The bad guys were great, of course, Manshoon, and Fzoul, and the myriad other (from mageling to archmagi) lackeys that are also chewed up and spat out burnt down by Shandril and her flaming madness. The body count here is like something from a late 80s action movie, they die in droves- the Zhent.

There are, of course, the usual issues- this time its Narm (Mr. Shandril) that's not quite cut-out for the action (actually, I quite like that also- the heroine is in change, while her Wizard husband needs to be protected- and constantly reminded that he's playing in the big league now). Elminster does his thing, goes off for a bit, comes back for a bit, does his thing again, and... yeah, that kind of stuff. Even in a novel that's not much to do with Elminster (really) the still slightly creepy big E has got to play a part. It's as if Ed Greenwood is contractually obliged, or else at the time he had other books to sell. There's the bit where Delg (the Dwarf) patiently explains the uses and functions of a magic item to Narm, and it feels like a clunky exposition run delivered by the wrong guy, but all that was available at the time.

So, there's the usual stuff to gripe about, but... overall, another one I quite enjoyed.

Read.
 

Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
#060 Masquerades by Kate Novak & Jeff Grubb (Harpers 10)
Read 17/3/20 to 19/3/20


Forgotten Realms Masquerades (Harpers 10) a.JPG

Book 10- and yet another one I enjoyed (mostly) and the Novak & Grubb gang (from the Azure Bonds/Finder's Stone trilogy) are back together- Alias the swordswoman, Dragonbait (the coolest Saurial Paladin on all of Toril), and Olive Ruskettle (superior Halfling Bard (= Thief)).

The city of Westgate is in trouble, birth place (sorta not) of Alias, the Night Masks lead by the Faceless are seeking to become masters of the trade capital, and supplant the great families. There's even a wonderful map inside the front cover of the book I read- dividing Westgate up in to the various territories of the terror gang. The Faceless runs the Night Masks like a tyrannical CEO, the nuts and bolts of their operation is exposed here and is going to get replicated in one my future games, promise.

There are a bunch of new characters to meet and greet, the oddest of them all is Jamal- not for anything she does but for the fact that in the last ten pages of the book she turns out to be the hidden Harper in the pack, yeah... no Harper's mentioned throughout, ten pages to go- here she is. Odd.

The sage Mintassan assumes the semi-Elminster role, only he's younger and slightly cooler, but as it turns out just as multifunctional.

So, the book and story flies bye- plenty of action (Alias et al vs the Night Masks), plenty of detective work, and plenty of smooth talking (in a very down-to-earth sorta way) from Victor Dhostar, son of Westgate's governing family- the next in line, waiting (im)patiently for his turn at the helm.

Therein lies the real problem- the Faceless is, well... faceless- or else his identity is obscured, who could he be? The red herring in this is Victor's dad- Luer Dhostar, alas lots of the suspicious info discovered about Luer is supplied (or made sense of) by his son... Victor.

Victor's also too good to be true from very early in the piece, for a while I didn't spot it- what's this I thought, there's a love story front and centre of the novel, that's nice- sorta, Alias is going to find her life-partner. But it can't be true, and... lots of other folk aren't as impressed with the pretender to the throne (in-waiting). So, the suspicion hits you pretty early, and there's nothing (at all) that happens afterwards that will throw the reader off the scent.

Then there's the story not-told (except in the SPOILERS epilogue). There's a big fight- Alias, Dragonbait & Mintassan the Sage are suddenly gone- presumed dead, Ruskettle and Jamal are left to make sense of it. Luer's dead, the Night Masks defeated (sorta, maybe) and the remaining great families quickly shuffle Victor to the top of the pack. By this time we know, of course, that Victor is the villain, secure in his new position and surrounded by his pandering hench-people. Which the author has really started to really focus upon.

Turns out... well, I'll not spoil the surprise, except to say- Alias et al are not dead- what's that, I hear you cry in shock, they're hiding in plain sight, ready to pounce.Wwhich they inevitably do, in a great/fight scene set (eventually) in an angry gold-paved treasure house demi-plane in which the good guys (and bad guy) have to overcome about a million gaseous form (to begin with) Dretch. It's a corker.

Then comes the epilogue, to explain how we got from D to E, which is a bit... well, I guess if you have to.

There's some great action, lots of great characters- Dragonbait for the win, the setting is well explored, as are the politics et al of the various factions and organisations- there's lot to like, and it swings by, it's just the plot that needs to be forgiven (a little). Otherwise, I raced through it.

Read.

Stay safe and well you lovely people- these are strange days.
 

Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
#061 Curse of the Shadowmage by Mark Anthony (Harpers 11)
Read 19/3/20 to 21/3/20


Forgotten Realms Curse of the Shadowmage (Harpers 11) a.JPG

Book 11- and we're back with Caledan Caldorien and friends in Iriaebor, the City of a Thousand Spires- this then is the sequel to the previous Harper/Mark Anthony book- Crypt of the Shadowking, with a lot of the same faces, plus a few new guys. There's a lot to like here... the story is (SPOILERS) Caledan's time is now- he's the natural heir to the throne- a new Shadowking is in the process of being born/made, the Harper hero (while ripping apart his relationship) is fighting it, but... he's being drawn to the finale (in Ebenfar).

Everyone else (aka the good guys) are for a while trying to figure out what's going, and then soon after trying to figure out where Caledan's gone... and then they're in semi-hot pursuit. Obviously their trials and tribulations along the way are manifold, and some of them right nasty. The Shadevar (think Ring Wraiths) are also on the trail, and this time there are three of the hard to kill buggers- and with mounts.

So, the story's good, the plot- similar, but y'know- like a lot (all) of the others- so, nothing much to write home about- although the action is good and the quest/journey interesting- it's another that would make a great scenario to DM.

The best bit (imho) are the characters, the good guys- and the pretend bad. Morhion the Wizard is back (with Serafi his vampiric buddy?), and he's possibly the true hero of the piece, although there are plenty of others that throw their hat in to the ring for this gig. Mari's also in the mix (Caledan's partner/Harper from the previous novel), as is Kellen (Caledan's otherworldly son) of course- the pair go above and beyond. There's also a pair of Guildmaster level thieves along for the journey- Cormik and Jewel are the comedy couple for this novel, and nicely done. Jewel, as it turns out, is Ferret's grandmother- and I loved Ferret the Thief in the last novel, so that's great... better still, he's back- Ferret is Stiletto, but you'll get there. Perhaps the best of the (bad) bunch character-wise is K'shar the Hunter, who is basically a Harper employed Terminator, and its inevitable from the get-go that he comes good in the end.

There's some more shadow style magic to be had here, a few more clue delivering Ghosts, a nice puzzle or two, an ancient Druid awaiting the prophet (Kellen), a bit of Bard-work, a further dig (or three) at the general inability of the Harpers (mostly the management), and a great finale- worthy of one of the 'S' series modules (maybe).

So, good- I liked it.

Read.

Stay healthy and well you lovely people.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
This one was pretty much where I stopped reading the Harpers novels. That wasn't any sort of planned departure on my part, but rather at this point they started transitioning into being novels that were built on other novels, some of which I still haven't read (i.e. the Alias books) and others I'm not interested in (i.e. the Danilo and Arilyn books).

Of course, there are exceptions to that, but I'll mention them when we get there.

I honestly missed Ravendas in this book, mostly because I found her to be a more compelling villain than the bad guys here, none of whom I even remember. Serafi is the exception, and he deserved a much better send-off than the perfunctory way he was dispatched at the end of the book. I also remember Kellen as being unpalatable, though in this case that's because I've always been suspicious of how children would gain great power under the game rules; when you're that young, you can't possibly have that many character levels. D&D simply doesn't lend itself very well to "destined child" archetypes.
 

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