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

Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
#107 Evermeet: Island of the Elves by Elaine Cunningham
Read 22/11/20 to 01/12/20


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It's a cracker, and let me say this before we get going- I don't like Elves, as a rule- as daft as that sounds, I think LotR ruined them for me- too neat, too nice, too good at everything. But hey, here they are and they're nasty bastards co-mingled with stoic sacrifice everything dear to them to get the goal heroes. Also... dark, like... well, the Drow- obvious really when you write it but before this book, well- I figured there were mostly lone examples in other books of bad guy elves, but mostly that was to do with xenophobia and epic hubris, here... they're all of that but also heroes and, well... scum. Worse still, hyper-intelligent scum.

The book has also filled in lots of gaps, not that I have remembered everything that I have read so far, but I was always bumping into feint memories from previous novels- it joins the dots, and Evermeet has become real, and a place for me. Likewise because we start with the pantheon then the elven gods, and their various foibles have also become a little clearer, although there's not masses of info here.

But the stories, vignettes that connect under the aegis of Danilo Thann's research, they're all pretty cool- it's an opportunity for the author (and she's a great writer) to mostly just skip the middle part of the story, a bit of exposition- or else a connect to the last/previous story, and then its action all the way. It's epic, and I don't usually dig epic as much as I do four or five anti-heroes swinging and spelling to stay alive in the depths of the unknown- that's my bag, mostly. But, most times, I was gripped- dragon-riders, eagle-riders, a spelljammer ship/small fleet, it's a grab-bag of goodies.

Incredibly well written, the emotional bits are just that, the villains are pantomime tie-the-damsel-to-the-train-track complete with dastardly moustache- these guys are proper cold-calculating villains (see Drow), and the heroes are super-cool. Damn! I really am getting to like Elves.

So, it's a long book, and it dips and sways- some concentrated multi-chapter stories, other stuff a little throwaway- but not in a terrible way, it never gets dull- there's no middle section, it just set up and then bring on the intrigue and/or terror.

A cracker.

Read.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers Goonalan.
 

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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I'm having a hard time remembering why I didn't like this, but I distinctly recall that I didn't. Or at least, I didn't like what little I read, because I know I got through at least one or two chapters (I distinctly recall the opening scene where the invasion ships are sailing, and when they start to panic at the sight of Evermeet's defenses, a mysterious cloaked figure emerges and tells them to relax, because he has a certain hostage) and then put it down. And I'll admit that opening scene certainly sounds cool in recollection, so I'm not sure why I read it and said "meh." I want to say that there's something about Cunningham's writing that put me off (as I've mentioned before), but I'm not certain now.

Having said that, I think that this was the book that laid the seeds (or at least, explicitly confirmed them) for a lot of dissatisfaction between how elves in the Realms (and possibly most of D&D as a whole) were described versus how they were portrayed. While I'm less than enthusiastic about the push to decouple alignment from generalized presentations of demihumans/humanoids, I can admit that what's in this novel makes a good case for doing so.

Simply put, these elves don't come across as the Chaotic Good people we're told elves are.

Your bog-standard D&D elves are described as being, essentially, people who live to appreciate the sublime beauty of an art being taken to its apex. Uncaring of material gains or the pursuit of power (even though they come into both as unintended consequences of their pursuits), they instead find fulfillment in the appreciation of what most delights their senses. They're the ultimate aesthetes, in other words, and their interactions with the grimier practicalities of life are largely the consequences of other, less enlightened races intruding upon their domains. It's easy to see that as them being Chaotic Good exemplars.

However, the presentation of elves in Evermeet and similar works puts a markedly different spin on them. Here, the "race in decline" theme is sharply highlighted, as is the effect that it's having on elven society. While not presented as being universal, there's a highly defensive mindset present in elven culture now, a sense of "we've already lost so much, we have to protect what's left!" that's oftentimes taken to extremes, particularly since this sense of loss is typically attributed directly to the actions of other races. The result is that traditionalism, isolationism, prejudice, and sometimes even outright malice seem to be near-essential components of elven society. Needless to say, that's a hardcore Lawful Neutral at best, Lawful Evil at worst.

All of which is to say, I should probably go back and give this book another chance at some point.
 
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Mirtek

Hero
Having said that, I think that this was the book that laid the seeds (or at least, explicitly confirmed them) for a lot of dissatisfaction between how elves in the Realms (and possibly most of D&D as a whole) were described versus how they were portrayed. While I'm less than enthusiastic about the push to decouple alignment from generalized presentations of demihumans/humanoids, I can admit that what's in this novel makes a good case for doing so.

Simply put, these elves don't come across as the Chaotic Good people we're told elves are.

Your bog-standard D&D elves are described as being, essentially, people who live to appreciate the sublime beauty of an art being taken to its apex. Uncaring of material gains or the pursuit of power (even though they come into both as unintended consequences of their pursuits), they instead find fulfillment in the appreciation of what most delights their senses. They're the ultimate aesthetes, in other words, and their interactions with the grimier practicalities of life are largely the consequences of other, less enlightened races intruding upon their domains. It's easy to see that as them being Chaotic Good exemplars.

However, the presentation of elves in Evermeet and similar works puts a markedly different spin on them. Here, the "race in decline" theme is sharply highlighted, as is the effect that it's having on elven society. While not presented as being universal, there's a highly defensive mindset present in elven culture now, a sense of "we've already lost so much, we have to protect what's left!" that's oftentimes taken to extremes, particularly since this sense of loss is typically attributed directly to the actions of other races. The result is that traditionalism, isolationism, prejudice, and sometimes even outright malice seem to be near-essential components of elven society. Needless to say, that's a hardcore Lawful Neutral at best, Lawful Evil at worst.

All of which is to say, I should probably go back and give this book another chance at some point.
It's just the Sun Elves. And not only in this novel but in a lot of novels dealing with elves. The way they always act in the novels makes you think they need their long lifespan to make up for the time they lose every morning due to being unable to decide whether to wear their clan robes or their SS uniforms. They probably did not side with Lolth only because they too busy torturing some N-Tel-Quess (elven for "not-people" aka anyone that is not an elf) and thus missed the deadline to enlist and were stuck with Corellon's side. There also never has been an sun elf that was deemed worthy to wield a moonblad. Yes among their entire race, not a single one, go figure

Then there are the moon elves which are always portrayed at the good elves.
 

Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
#108 Realms of Mystery Anthology Ed. Philip Athans
Read 4/12/20 to 11/12/20


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These Realms of... books are really starting to feel like the Christmas pay-day, X number of authors rattle off around thirty pages and then see if it sells. Were they for the Christmas market? Or some equivalency?

Or was it just a run out for a few pros, and a step up into the limelight for some of the young guns on the way up, is that the deal?

There's good and bad in this one, but that's always going to be the case, and almost no author can shine that brightly in just under thirty pages, it can be done, but... not here, much.

Speaking with the Dead by Elaine Cunningham- Danilo Thann & Elaith Craulnober, start the mystery- or rather Danilo does detective with Elaith's reputation proceeds him. But- it's a set up, all fairly obvious (if not the solution then the situation) but it works- and its well written. I like the idea of the sunset boulevard for the pair as they head off hand-in-hand proclaiming their new found love for each other as they skip towards the future.

A Walk in the Snow by Dave Gross- sensitive and well-written, Ogden's a character I could get to like. And Portnoy too- the last will and testament of Cole the Wizard, remember him from right back at the beginning. Again, a fair mystery- well detectived out. It works, but a bit daft towards the end- or else the familiar ending (see what I did there).

The Rose Window by Monte Cook- a ten page mystery tale about a window, with a mystery ending.

The Club Rules by James Lowder- Artus Cimber plays detective/lawyer, he's good- as is Uther. A pantomime villain and a fair/foul mystery explained. It works.

Thieves' Justice by Mary H. Herbert- Teza the horse thief solves a mystery to save her friend. Rasheman sounds like a great place, I'd like to read a few more books set there. A brute gets his comeuppance. It works, just.

Ekhar Lorrent: Gnome Detective by Steven Brown- Just no.

The Devil and Tertius Wands by Jeff Grubb- See above.

H by Richard Lee Byers- Nine little, eight little, seven little... indians. The party members keep on dying. I like the monster, the reveal- not so keen on the H for hand, like anyone is going to get that.

Strange Bedfellows by Keith Francis Strohm- There's some things to like, but- it's just a bit easy, a bit- meh. Morgrim's the star of the show, although hard to believe.

Whence the Song of Steel by J. Robert King- Two opera singer rivals and a sword with a voice, and now I've told you that the mystery is over.

An Unusual Suspect by Brian M. Thompson- Nope.

Darkly, Through a Glass of Ale by Peter Archer- The Utter East sounds like a terrible place- don't go there, and don't write about it.

Lyanaelle by Thomas M. Reid- Lyanaelle graduates, solves the mystery and bests he master. It works, but... I don't know, something's missing.

The Grinning Ghost of Taverton Hall by Ed Greenwood- Alright, better than a lot of his others, are all Ed Greenwood's alter egos just odd little men blessed with either genius, the luck of the gods, or else an author's insight? There's a bit of me like this kind of thing- not kicking too hard, but too much of it- the omniscient hero, becomes too much far too quickly.

Off to read a proper book.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers Goonalan
 

Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
#109 The Shadow Stone by Richard Baker
Read 21/12/20 to 28/12/20


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And I kinda liked this one, although in places it seemed the author was scratching around for some of the bits and pieces that make the reader feel like their in Faerun, I seem to remember an odd moment with a Leucrotta (although could just have been something I ate), it's as if the author didn't quite know what a Leucrotta was/is, again this may just be my poor memory.

It's good however because it's a different place, Cimbar and the region- I don't remember being there before on my wander (so far) through the Realms. Aeron seemed suitably anti-hero, and I really liked his taciturn Elven Wizard Master, Fineghal. I'm going to steal this guy for my own game- he's pithy, earthy/woody- suitably druidy, but still very much a Mage.

I like the fact that we don't seem to see anything but Aeron in action, or in thought, very rarely do we see anything that our hero doesn't see. That makes what happens more immediate, however- that said, the story is suitably epic- not in its use of magic (but it gets there) but in the fact that we're with Aeron for a lot of his growing up. Also, of course, we watch him get good at what he does, and learn to make better decisions.

In truth I thought he was would die in the attempt in this one, he looks- in my mind's eye, pretty dark and menacing- bound to give his life to save the world (without anyone much knowing anything about it, the unrecorded hero). But, he survives- and it's a lame happy ever after (with brooding and kisses) in the end.

I also enjoyed the visit to the Shadow Realm, I've read enough elsewhere- and DMed on the plane previously, but it's good to get another perspective to add to the mind's eye.

The villains are bullying menacing, and camp menacing- I think that the author should probably have switched the order, however the villains are also believable- as in not possessed of infinite resources, (obviously) fallible, but at the same time- brooding and nasty. A bit pantomime but... that's to be expected, mostly.

So, no great shakes but a good story well told, and we stick with our guy through thick and thin. Nice.

Read.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan.
 


Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I've mentioned before that it's an open secret that Rich Baker originally wrote this as a Birthright novel. Unfortunately, it was ready to go just as TSR was being acquired by WotC, who shuttered that setting as part of their general streamlining of TSR's multiplicity of campaign worlds. Rather than being released for free online (which is what happened to Baker's other Birthright novel, The Falcon and the Wolf), it was reworked into a Forgotten Realms novel.

Personally, I don't recall much of the novel now (surprise, surprise), since it's been twenty years or so since I read it. Aeron is very clearly Cerilia's High Mage Aelies, but beyond that what comes through most clearly is that the "Shadow Plane" in this novel is Birthright's Shadow World, a menacing twilight realm acts as a dark parallel to the mortal world. As much as that sounds like the actual Plane of Shadow (or Demi-plane of Shadow, which is what it was prior to Third Edition), it's not; Planescape's A Guide to the Ethereal Plane (affiliate link) made it clear that, at least in AD&D 2E terms, the Shadow World occupied the space where Border Ethereal would normally be for Aebrynis's crystal sphere (Aebrynis being the planet, and Cerilia the continent, on which the Birthright campaign is set).

This novel is supposed to tell the story about how the Shadow World wasn't always the twisted realm it is now, once being a less malevolent faerie realm; one still alien, but less overtly hostile; and long before that, they were the same world, eventually being ruptured in twain (which ironically evokes the "Abeir/Toril" split that recent editions have played up for the Forgotten Realms, and of which there's no sign in the FR-reworking of this novel). Ironically, Birthright fans would get more of this in the Blood Spawn: Creatures of Light and Shadow book, a Birthright-specific bestiary which also got the axe after WotC acquired TSR and was subsequently released online.

As for how well this fits in with Faerun's relationship to the Shadow Plane and similar creatures (such as the shadevari), I can't exactly recall off the top of my head, but my impression is that it's something of a square peg in a round hole, and that this novel has been quietly ignored by subsequent canon, since everyone in the know knows that it's not really part of it. I suppose I should be able to look past that and try and enjoy the story for what it is, but when a large part of what I try to take away from these books is how well they help me understand the wider world, knowing that this one doesn't really have anything to offer in that regard puts a damper on my enthusiasm for it.
 
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Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
#110 The Silent Blade by RA Salvatore (Paths Darkness 1)
Read 2/1/21


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Well, I picked it up and read the first five to ten pages while waiting for the alarm to go off yesterday morning- to start the day. Then post alarm and the present lockdown version of food shopping it was back home, and back to the book- after jobs.

Then more jobs to do, but always back to the book- I finished the novel at approx. 10 PM the same day- what does that tell you/me. It's not unputdownable, but it is in comparison to a lot that has passed this way previously.

It's not a work of genius, but it has got great characters that I am sooooo routing for, particularly Artemis Entreri, and every time I meet Jarlaxle I learn to love him a little more, and Bruenor, and Catti, and Regis, and Wulfgar, and... the other one.

It's the greatest hits here, or else the characters that have (so far) made the biggest impression upon me, there may be dozens of reasons for this- I read about these guys pretty much at the start of my journey, they're all nicely rounded (although they have of course become archetypes). They're interesting- suitably thoughtful, when the need arises, suitable anti-hero, and... well, you know all about these guys probably so I'll let you finish this sentence.

The story just works, the chatter and action is great- it's got a good amount of geography and plenty of room for me to infer what cool places on the Sword Coast are like (a bit). The novel doesn't seem to have try hard to fit in with Faerun, and some of the others do, it simply belongs there. The author knows his onions, forgive me an English expression- he knows what he is writing about, the canon- or else he's happy to write his own canon.

It all just works, even the daft(-ish) last minute teleport in to save Regis' life and in the process steel the Crystal Shard away. Even then the author is smart enough to tell the reader all of the mistakes that the bad guys are making with their roleplay. Salvatore is smart enough to know that this is the weakest link, the moment that the good guys get conned- and we need to believe this bit, or else to be able to explain it away to ourselves. So, he points out the errors that on a better day Drizzt and his companions could/would spot, and be much more suspicious of.

I liked that bit a lot.

Here's what happened, here's what our heroes should have noticed- but in the moment their need was too great, Regis was dying.

I liked that this seemed opportunistic, that even the bad guys here are on the blag, making things up as they go along- with good research but all the same, they're winging it.

Then there's Wulfgar, who I have disliked in the past for all of his macho naughty word and his failure to integrate with the real world (at times). Here he's forlorn, despicable and desperate, bugger- I'm starting to feel sorry for the big lug. Damn you Bob Salvatore.

There's more good stuff however- the Crystal Shard calling the bad guys too it, I'm using this in my campaign- I can't wait to hear my PCs around the VTT trying to figure out why it is a steady number of semi-evil randoms keep attacking them. There's a nice bit of non-pirate ship action, Catti comes alive. Lots of (maybe a dozen) other great NPCs that get walk-ons or just ten lines here that are just great- Druzil, the Imp is back. The drow wizard and psionicist- the pair are great, they'd make a wonderful enemy tag team just on their own, with a maybe a bunch of mooks to do the dirty work for them. I really like Luskan, we're going there.

What I'm trying to say, I think, is Salvatore starts way closer to the finishing line, or else the line above which it becomes easy for the reader to know and appreciate that s/he is learning something here- seeing the Realms (and its inhabitants) in all of its technicolour glory. If I just had the books of Salvatore to go on then I'd probably have enough of Faerun to play with for a campaign or two. Enough places that fit into my mind's eye version of the realms, my D&D game version, enough places, and people and stratagems to make a great adventure or thirty.

I liked this one a lot.

Oh, and the italicized Drizzt words of wisdom seem even better here, who knows why- it's like a great episode of Kung-Fu (or whatever it was called) with David Carradine, wandering the world and learning lessons. A bit of pop-psychology rubbing against some emotional/philosophical explanation for what's going on in the here and now- with Drizzt and his companions. The drow just seems a whole lot more sure of himself, and the world, he's graduated (somehow) and doesn't need to stand in the spotlight all the while.

Yeah, it just works.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
#110 The Silent Blade by RA Salvatore (Paths Darkness 1)
Read 2/1/21


View attachment 130849

Well, I picked it up and read the first five to ten pages while waiting for the alarm to go off yesterday morning- to start the day. Then post alarm and the present lockdown version of food shopping it was back home, and back to the book- after jobs.

Then more jobs to do, but always back to the book- I finished the novel at approx. 10 PM the same day- what does that tell you/me. It's not unputdownable, but it is in comparison to a lot that has passed this way previously.

It's not a work of genius, but it has got great characters that I am sooooo routing for, particularly Artemis Entreri, and every time I meet Jarlaxle I learn to love him a little more, and Bruenor, and Catti, and Regis, and Wulfgar, and... the other one.

It's the greatest hits here, or else the characters that have (so far) made the biggest impression upon me, there may be dozens of reasons for this- I read about these guys pretty much at the start of my journey, they're all nicely rounded (although they have of course become archetypes). They're interesting- suitably thoughtful, when the need arises, suitable anti-hero, and... well, you know all about these guys probably so I'll let you finish this sentence.

The story just works, the chatter and action is great- it's got a good amount of geography and plenty of room for me to infer what cool places on the Sword Coast are like (a bit). The novel doesn't seem to have try hard to fit in with Faerun, and some of the others do, it simply belongs there. The author knows his onions, forgive me an English expression- he knows what he is writing about, the canon- or else he's happy to write his own canon.

It all just works, even the daft(-ish) last minute teleport in to save Regis' life and in the process steel the Crystal Shard away. Even then the author is smart enough to tell the reader all of the mistakes that the bad guys are making with their roleplay. Salvatore is smart enough to know that this is the weakest link, the moment that the good guys get conned- and we need to believe this bit, or else to be able to explain it away to ourselves. So, he points out the errors that on a better day Drizzt and his companions could/would spot, and be much more suspicious of.

I liked that bit a lot.

Here's what happened, here's what our heroes should have noticed- but in the moment their need was too great, Regis was dying.

I liked that this seemed opportunistic, that even the bad guys here are on the blag, making things up as they go along- with good research but all the same, they're winging it.

Then there's Wulfgar, who I have disliked in the past for all of his macho naughty word and his failure to integrate with the real world (at times). Here he's forlorn, despicable and desperate, bugger- I'm starting to feel sorry for the big lug. Damn you Bob Salvatore.

There's more good stuff however- the Crystal Shard calling the bad guys too it, I'm using this in my campaign- I can't wait to hear my PCs around the VTT trying to figure out why it is a steady number of semi-evil randoms keep attacking them. There's a nice bit of non-pirate ship action, Catti comes alive. Lots of (maybe a dozen) other great NPCs that get walk-ons or just ten lines here that are just great- Druzil, the Imp is back. The drow wizard and psionicist- the pair are great, they'd make a wonderful enemy tag team just on their own, with a maybe a bunch of mooks to do the dirty work for them. I really like Luskan, we're going there.

What I'm trying to say, I think, is Salvatore starts way closer to the finishing line, or else the line above which it becomes easy for the reader to know and appreciate that s/he is learning something here- seeing the Realms (and its inhabitants) in all of its technicolour glory. If I just had the books of Salvatore to go on then I'd probably have enough of Faerun to play with for a campaign or two. Enough places that fit into my mind's eye version of the realms, my D&D game version, enough places, and people and stratagems to make a great adventure or thirty.

I liked this one a lot.

Oh, and the italicized Drizzt words of wisdom seem even better here, who knows why- it's like a great episode of Kung-Fu (or whatever it was called) with David Carradine, wandering the world and learning lessons. A bit of pop-psychology rubbing against some emotional/philosophical explanation for what's going on in the here and now- with Drizzt and his companions. The drow just seems a whole lot more sure of himself, and the world, he's graduated (somehow) and doesn't need to stand in the spotlight all the while.

Yeah, it just works.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan.

This was the last great/good Drizzt novel imho.

One of his best come to think of it IMHO.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I had a bit of a hard time remembering this one. While that's long since become a theme of my posting here, in this case it wasn't so much that I'd forgotten aspects of this book as it was I was having trouble making sure I was remembering the right Drizzt book. After so many years, it's easy to get confused about which book particular things happen in.

Having reaffirmed this book's plot by way of an online synopsis, I concur that this is probably one of the stronger Drizzt novels. The dark elf himself seems to be at the apex of his character's journey of acceptance, both in terms of having people who believe in him and are comfortable with him, and in his having come to terms with himself. While not the end of his development per se (as fate, the gods, the universe, etc. continue to throw curve-balls at him), I recall thinking that this book was where his pathos about reconciling who he is with what he is seemed to be resolved. After this it's more external issues, ranging from courtship to invading armies.

What makes this book even better is that it's the jumping-off point for the stories of Jarlaxle and Artemis Entreri. The former is a lot of fun because he deftly slides between "trickster" and "consummate planner" without ever being consumed by either archetype. Like a drow version of Tom Hiddleston's Loki (albeit a little more effective and a lot more self-confident), whether by winging it or because he's anticipated it, he's got an answer for whatever comes up. Interestingly, this makes him one of the less introspective characters in the series, resulting in him pushing developments along; with his endless machinations, Jarlaxle keeps the plot moving.

Entreri, by contrast, begins his own journey of self-discovery here. Salvatore smartly puts an end to anti-Drizzt's all-consuming need to prove that he's better than the drow ranger, correctly identifying that particular arc as having run its narrative course. While Entreri's torment over "I sacrificed meaningful relationships to become this skilled at fighting, so I can't bear the thought of that sacrifice being meaningless because Drizzt reached that same level of skill without sacrificing anything," was certainly relatable, this is where the character finally starts to spin off in a new direction (one that, spoiler alert, comes to the obvious conclusion of "I can still connect with people after all"). Having seen Salvatore do a remarkable job of charting the character growth of Drizzt, we know that he'll be able to just as good (and I think even better) with Entreri.

The cameo by the Cleric Quintet crew struck me as being somewhat heavy-handed. While I can't recall if they made their debut in Drizzt's series in this novel or the previous one, I remember rolling my eyes at how one of the first things we got to see was how the poignant ending of the original quintet was immediately rolled back here, instead giving the characters a sunshine and rainbows finale. Did Salvatore receive a lot of hate-mail for Cadderly's story seeming to end on a minor chord instead of a major one? Either way, it felt gratuitous, and was perhaps the only part of this book where I rolled my eyes.
 

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