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


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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.


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