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

But he wasn't uncaring, much- he did a lot of tough-talking, about just abandoning his friends et al (they'd served their purpose, cut them loose- whatever) but when it comes down to it he can't, and he doesn't- that's part of the revelation at the end (for Pinch) at least that's my reading. He talks tough but doesn't follow through- unlike the actual bad people, hence him rescuing Therin from the noose (even before the book starts) and sticking with a drunken Maeve and the greedy halfling Sprite.

Again, just my reading.

Cheers goonalan

Oh yeah, it was >20 years ago now, and my memories of this one aren't very clear to say the least, that was just the memory i have of it. Quite possible I'd like it more now!

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#076 War in Tethyr by Victor Milan (Nobles 2)
Read 12/6/20 to 14/6/20

Forgotten Realms War in Tethyr (Nobles 2) VGOOD.JPG

Book 2- and what to say, well- the feller can write, although... let me take it in stages.

The writing is intense (in places), highly descriptive- florid, some would say, and there's a use of language that's a bit above and beyond that employed elsewhere, there were a couple of times I had to stop reading just to go back and process what I had read. Words like 'loathly' which isn't difficult to fathom (at all) but its less often used (see Chaucer's Wife of Bath- the Loathly Lady). Sometimes this is great, because who doesn't like to stretch the brain, but other times it seems like a display. I remember reading a paragraph in which the good guys are sneaking through the sewers and in six to eight lines the author tells us the various ways in which each of the protagonists are inured to the terrible stench. So, in precis- it smells bad, nobody minds.

Mr Milan has a way of telling you everything you need to know, even if there are far quicker ways to say a thing- blanket statements are okay, particularly as much of the new info is just fluff and serves no other purpose. So, there's some of that- which is good and bad (if not bad- then a little tiresome).

Then there's the fact that the plot seems to be, at least for one or two sections of the narrative, happening off-screen. In particular this happens while Zaranda is in her cell- the revolution, such as it is, is going on out there. So, we stick with Zaranda, even if that's (perhaps) counter-intuitive, less action, fewer events.

That confused me, although maybe less so now I start to think about it, it's through Zaranda's eyes we witness these events, and so the author can't suddenly dodge outside and show someone else's perspective- kinda painted himself into a corner.

Likewise, the story comes in several parts/chapters- some of these are immediate, and thus more real- action-orientated; the initial caravan journey, the training of the villagers et al. Then there's a treacle of meetings in-between these, which are interesting, but... it seems again that the author has much much much more in the way of ongoing exposition that needs to said and aired. It's not that the story is that complex, its just that the author has chosen to drip-drip-drip it into the narrative, a little more with each new downpour. The problem with this is the action fades, it's about politics this one- the rights of citizens to not fear their masters/nobles/rulers et al, to self-determine, and to provide for/protect themselves.

All very worthy, noble- for want of a better word. Ideals are good but the action, for me, is where it's at.

So, nice story- well told, but also convoluted- too chatty, and a surfeit of action- until the climax.

That said there are some great characters here- Shield (FTW), Farlorn, Goldie (the talking horse?), Father P, Stillhawk, and maybe even Chenowyn (but this is a bit of a mess- deus ex machina?). But if you've not figured out who the bad guy is (or is very likely to be) by about page 50 then you need to think about it. The ending is suitably heroic, and at the same time unnecessarily twisty-turny, the feel good ending with Chenowyn seems to have been welded on.

Also lots about Tethyr and Zazesspur- so that's good for my game.

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He Who Lurks Beyond The Veil
I am really liking your reviews of the Nobles series so far. Might have to look them up myself for the summer vacation. And you are getting close to my old favourite, the Starlight & Shadows series. Looking forward to that.

I really like War in Tethyr.

But not only is some of the major action offstage, the most important events actually kick into gear right after the novel ends! I suspect Milan hoped to write a sequel, but that never transpired. At any rate, check out the later sourcebook Lands of Intrigue (itself one of the best AD&D setting supplements) to discover what happens next to the characters of this novel.

There's no later novel (to my knowledge) that covers the subsequent events directly, but that sourcebook almost qualifies as a narrative in its own right. If you read it straight through, front to back, the earlier sections cleverly plant clues and questions, the answers to which are made explicit in the later sections. You might be surprised by what happens to Zaranda...

I really like War in Tethyr.

But not only is some of the major action offstage, the most important events actually kick into gear right after the novel ends! I suspect Milan hoped to write a sequel, but that never transpired. At any rate, check out the later sourcebook Lands of Intrigue (itself one of the best AD&D setting supplements) to discover what happens next to the characters of this novel.

There's no later novel (to my knowledge) that covers the subsequent events directly, but that sourcebook almost qualifies as a narrative in its own right. If you read it straight through, front to back, the earlier sections cleverly plant clues and questions, the answers to which are made explicit in the later sections. You might be surprised by what happens to Zaranda...

My understanding is that the final never-finished Arilyn/Danilo/Elaith book by Elaine Cunningham was going to cover at least part of that story.


#077 Escape from Undermountain by Mark Anthony (Nobles 3)
Read 15/6/20 to 17/6/20

Forgotten Realms Escape from Undermountain (Nobles 3) NrMINT.JPG

Book 3- and I don't think I'm going to say many nice things here, I think the best I can say is that it was... alright. I liked the idea, and was looking forward to the book immensely (that may have been part of the problem) the title is enough to make my heart race, there's just something about Undermountain, as daft as it is.

So, here goes- was it written for children? Was there a meeting and someone said- dumb it down? Everything seems to always work out for our guys in the end- now, I know that that always happens, but in this one the bone-headed stuff (and there's lots and lots of this) is constantly rewarded, and with thanks.

Artek comes across as the least capable super-rogue in all of humanity, the constant- anger/doubt/I'm giving up now & associated grizzling, he's a whining fool with a trigger temper. How did he get to be the #1 super-fly thief? The other characters- well, turn to the side and they disappear, their all short on additional dimensions, they just do the thing they do and plod on. The themes- try, try again etc. are just writ too large, and too often- everybody hurts, everybody gets better- the end.

Undermountain comes out of this relatively unscathed, but a bit strange- but that's my reading of the place prior to picking up this novel anyway, a big dungeon from the mad bad (maybe) days of AD&D, when anything went- and (too) often did. But that's just my IMHO, so no flame war, pretty please.

Back to the dislikes, big threat + no clever = success.

Example- the gang are being hunted (and have already lost Lord Corrin) to a bunch of priests of Malar (the Beastlord)- not great, they discover the Malar castle- big build up- very imposing. How to get in? Hmm, walk around the 'back' and climb the wall- well, that was easier than I thought. Okay, Artek and the Gargoyle- get it, but the Wizard- how big is the castle wall? Things just happen- the PCs luck out every time. Beneath the wall- three passing priests (with masks) size and shape of our three guys. So, rescue Corrin then escape, but how to- I know let's jump into the great big hole we can't see the bottom of, and fall hundreds of feet, and...

We're all alright again, not a scratch on us.

But Artek is separated from his friends...

Oh no, there they are.

There are times when the PCs smart the next move- and that's good.

But in between times they just stumble forwards, between Artek's mopes and snarls, and into their next 'close' scrape.

Why is it all so writ large and simple, it seems like the start of a novel, a first or second draft- before the layers got added, the story- and a bit of the plot (not hidden very well). There must have been a meeting sometime in which someone held up the text and said- "is this what we're doing now?"

That sounds terrible, and the thing is I don't remember the previous novels I've read by Mark Anthony being anything like this.

The threat then is massively lessened, every snake will lead to a ladder- there are smart times but they are few and far between, the characters (particularly Artek) lack... everything, and they just bumble through. The big clever bit of course is left to the end- and that's nice, but by then I was spent- I read then first 150 pages in my first sitting- just constantly willing it to get better, after the next 100 I was starting to resent the task, the last 50 pages seemed to take me a lifetime. Although, keep in mind I read it in three days- so, it's relative.


Apologies if anyone loves this one, I wanted to (which may, as I have already said- made the hurt all the more apparent) please feel free to tell me why I am wrong. I need to learn.

Stay safe.

Cheers goonalan


#078 The Mage in the Iron Mask by Brian Thomsen (Nobles 4)
Read 18/6/20 to 21/6/20

Forgotten Realms The Mage in the Iron Mask (Nobles 4) FAIRGOOD.JPG

Book 4, and I'll be honest- I was expecting to dislike but, no... not really, and here's why.

So, you know the story- we all know the story, Dumas or D'Artagnan- or else you've read/seen some other version; so there's nothing (much) new here, save for the setting and the players. The setting is good, or at least I thought so- I've never been to Mulmaster before and now I don't wanna, but I do want to send my PCs there- it's a tough city (the City of Danger) with a fair amount of secret police, factions et al. The High Blade and his Thay Wizard (Princess) wife are both suitably nasty; he's the tie-the-fair-maiden-to-the-railway-track-while-twirling-moustache, while she's a bad-to-the-bone Elvira (but y'know- bald with the Thay tats) who dresses half vamp, all vixen.

There's some fun to be had here, and the amount of page-time this pair gets, well... until Blind Honor arrives then they are the central characters. At times I forgot that Volo and Passepout were even in this, good- I dislike the Toril expert's acting friend and the traveller himself can be a little awkward- what's he for? Other than getting his check mark on the register there's really no reason- except as glue, that either of this pair are in the story.

The hero? Oh, yeah- I remember him- ex-Wizard guy- Rassen... something, dyll? I think that's the one, well... he's a lump of clay too- he's alright, but he's having a very bad day, so- he's forgiven. Besides the story is mostly happening to him- rather than making choices he's being passed around, and harried.

But you don't notice this, well- not really, because it fair zips by- the chapters are (mostly until we get to Blind Honor) just a collection of this happens here, he says this to her, she says this to him- Mr. Thomsen doesn't hang around, and he's almost always pointing forward- moving the plot and the story along. So, a chapter buzzes by and we get to dip and taste five or six other simultaneous stories- all pointing towards the climax, there's no time to harrumph, we're moving fast.

Don't get me wrong- some of the explanation, much of the action, and nearly all of the finale are... very easy to read, and a bit paper thin, but- it just keeps rumbling on, relentless.

Mr. Thomsen also has a thing for letting the real world trip/drip into his fantasy- Oil of Oleigh for some guy who's name sounds like psoriasis, and every now and then a similar overlap between our world and Faerun, tbh it must be hard not to do this all the time- I know as a DM I have been guilty. So, forgiven and mostly forgotten- are we supposed to laugh at this? As I say, move on.

To recap- some daft character who get very little page time, some good characters particularly Blind Honor (but also the villains) who get plenty of page time, a nice setting- some good action, and always (except for the Blind Honor bit) pressing on- racing to the conclusion.

In truth it got a little harder to believe as it went on, but by then... I wanted to know the end.

Happily ever after, well... sorta, although the totalitarian regime still seems to be the government style of choice- particularly with McKern and Honor in the wings.

Just for info, all I want from these books is to either learn something new (mostly I'm interested in the world we play in- Toril) or else to be hooked into the story. Short of that I'd settle for a few good characters- who will later turn up as NPCs in my game (or similar). This one then, is just above the bar- it works.

For me.


Stay safe.

Cheers goonalan.


No rule is inviolate
Thanks for continuing to push through these! Even if I'm not posting, still following and reliving those days of devouring these books in a single setting (for good or ill).


#079 The Council of Blades by Paul Kidd (Nobles 5)
Read 22/6/20 to 28/6/20

Forgotten Realms The Council of Blades (Nobles 5) VGOOD.JPG

Book 5, and I thought, at first, it was going to be a cracker- I was wrong, although if you like that kind of thing...

So, there are two stories to be told and later on they get together, which is nice- although at that point the 'silly' has won the day and so it became a slow and ponderous read towards the end- I didn't dig the silly.

First off, the Blade Kingdoms, which come across as a great place to adventure- think Italian (and other) city states in the middle ages (possibly, my history's not that great) some larger than others, each battling to stake their claim to territory- fighting over villages, and crops and mines. But with an order to things- the nobles at the top, lining up their armies like chess pieces on the board, often this act alone is enough to signal the end of the battle, it's orderly and regimented, and rigid, and of course the worst kind of government. Votes (and power) are held and cast depending on the size of your army, the Blade Councils rule the roost. The poor folk suffer regardless, not quite a tyranny- but with the potential. It's also a beautiful land, or at least it is viewed through the eyes of our protagonists, who are all better off then most.

So, maybe 30-40% of the book is about the various Blade Councils and their members- good and bad, taking it in turns to posture, or preen, or else... well, just do what they do. Except the new order wants to grab it all, or at least Ugo Svarezi does- he dresses all in black and rides a black hippogriff (all the clues you need). The conservative, old skool and orderly Prince Mannicci needs to be swept away. Which as it stands would make a great novel, I really like the politics- and the various armies with their historical analogies are all great, particularly when you add a few fantasy troops and tropes in there. I'd read a book about this.

Alas a good 60-70% of the novel is the love story (and extras)- with all the usual fripperies and confusions between Miliana (Minnicci) and Lorenzo (think Leonardo Da Vinci) mad inventor and champion of the poor folk (or so he says). They're all right, but silly- in a Terry Pratchett way (at times) but nowhere near as good/well-written. It's like the author had a silly/daft quotient and once he had met it he went back to the safe and sound, the normal. Then there's the Firebird, Tekoriikii, which is- or who is, just not fantasy- or else too far fantasy for me. Later on in the piece the Firebird defeats 500 hippogriff riders and their mounts- with his call, and odd dance. It's Disney, and to me it doesn't sit well here.

I want the grim and the gritty, I don't mind a short flurry of funny, or light, or a gimmick or a delight- but this is just too daft by a long way however, the bird steals the most heavily guarded of treasures, doesn't talk but can communicate with Miliana, has 99 lives- while at the same time has the disposition of a booby (a preening idiot). I don't like it- in fact I dislike it intensely.

There's also a slew of Da Vinci style inventions et al, which- you might like, I'm okay with most of them but... it just smacks of Pratchett-lite.

The big themes- love (and other things) wins through (sorta), and a bit of power to the people- although we don't really get to see or meet any of the actual, y'know... people, so I'm not sure how much has changed in the end.

There's a daft snail (you read that right) Blade Captain later on- I didn't like that, I think I threw the book across the room and didn't go and fetch it again until sometime the next day. The more I think about it the more I like the idea- a talking snail, somewhere- but not here. To what end- what purpose does it serve. It feels a lot like whimsy, and yet it just makes it harder (for me) to sit the book within the canon, the milieu, or at least alongside what has come before.

So, I really didn't like it- and it took me an age to get to the end, reduced to reading in 20-page bursts because I was so fed up with it. Which is odd because I read Paul Kidd way back when with Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, White Plume Mountain and Queen of the Demonweb Pits- and I seem to remember being so enthused about these locations- and the others featured in the Greyhawk series that I made it my mission to DM these books immediately. Although in truth I had DMed most of them already- remember I'm old skool. Obviously I don't remember how good Mr Kidd's novels actually were (it was all a very long time ago) but they were certainly enough to get my motor running.

Disappointing, overall.

Although, I have actually purchased all but one of the Greyhawk novels, and the Ravenloft novels (a few left to find), and Mystara novels (two missing), and the Planescape novels (one left to find), and the Spelljammer novels. I'm going to do these after I've done with the FR stuff.

I love reading books, which may at this point have become obvious.


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