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


The EN World kitten
This one lost me at the very beginning, when it got the circumstances of Gilgeam's death wrong.

I mean, if I'm remembering correctly, it has Tiamat just up and killing him during the Time of Troubles, but that's not what happened. Powers & Pantheons is very clear in that, when Tiamat challenged Gilgeam during the Time of Troubles, he literally tore her to pieces. But her divine essence was spread among three dragons who were driven to kill and devour each other in order to reconstitute her (the winner being the infamous Tchazzar).

By the time Tiamat had pulled herself together, the Time of Troubles was over, and Gilgeam had been busted down from an intermediate deity to a demigod, since his descent into despotism over the centuries had left very few people who actually worshiped him. Since Tiamat was a lesser deity, her avatar went for a rematch with his avatar, and this time she won. In a rage, Gilgeam himself (i.e. not his avatar) left his planar realm to attack Tiamat in her planar realm, which resulted in his being truly slain. But Tiamat lost enough power in the fight to be busted down to a demigoddess herself...which is when Bahamut sent a team of high-level mortals to slay her sole remaining avatar (i.e. the end of H4 Throne of Bloodstone). Since demigods can only have one avatar at a time, and it takes them a full year to make a new one, Tiamat was therefore unable to have an avatar personally take up control of Unther like she'd planned, leaving the Faerunian and Mulhorandi pantheons to divide it up between them (though she managed to claw her way back up to lesser deity later).

So yeah, the entire premise of this particular novel is wrong. I mean, I suppose that's not too big of an issue overall, but it lost me right from the beginning on the technicality. Likewise, the idea of using the eponymous rod to bring Gilgeam('s avatar?) back as an undead creature was somewhat interesting, if only because it seemed like he might have been a hunefer, but the book certainly didn't make it sound that way, which was something of a missed opportunity to my mind.

Beyond that...I can't really recall much else about this particular book. Around the time this came out I was losing interest in Forgotten Realms novels altogether; nothing they were doing appealed to me much, and so I grew tired of hoping that the next one would be the one that drew me back in. Given the lackluster review above, I was apparently right to do so, which is a pity.

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#157 The Black Bouquet by Richard Lee Byers (Rogues 2)
Read 17/4/22 to 22/4/22


Well, here's the thing- Oeble in the Border Kingdoms sounds like a place I'd like my players to go and explore, it's suitably wild and weird, a little like Starmantle from the last novel. There's a Tanarukk gang boss and what's not to like about that. A bunch of underground drinking dens in which the Red Axes (and other gangs) hang out, and the gangs themselves- humanoids and humans- gnolls, yuan-ti slavers, orc ruffians and hobgoblin toughs. Again, what's not to like about that, and the spider's web of rope walkways and bridges which span the town, the place sounds like a delight to adventure in.

Same, for the most part for the three main characters in this novel, Aeron, the rogue in the series title; Mirei, the ranger and best of all- Sefris, the nihilistic/Shar-worshipping monk. So, three fairly great characters, at least to watch them at their business, but here's the thing... it just doesn't going, at no point do I want any of them (particularly) to come out on top, and then it's a bit of a sell-out at the end. Kesk, the tanarukk bad boy escapes with his life because he knows a secret, and the merchant/wizard behind it all gets his comeuppance, but- it all seems very contrived, an afterthought rather than something that the good guys were trying to achieve. Likewise, the defeat of Sefris (and Kesk, to some extent) leave me with lingering doubts, a pair of lightning gloves to defeat the monk, and the monk to defeat the tanarukk. Hmm... if you like, maybe Aeron is the new kind of hero- clever, trusting to luck (and his friends) and hoping for the best.

There are a few daft magic items in here, it has to be said- the tongue thing is just genius or else stupid daft.

So, great place- nice characters, but the story is not great shakes and then gets confused (or else uninteresting), and there's the over-riding feeling that the author is always going to keep as many characters as he can alive so that he can bring them back, so that he has a stake in the realms.

Okay. Read.

Stay safe and well you lovely people.

Cheers goonalan.


#158 The Crimson Gold by Voronica Whitney-Robinson (Rogues 3)
Read 23/4/22 to 26/4/22


It's getting harder to do this, I seem to have hit a mediocre patch.

That said there's lots to learn about Thay here, and the ways and means of the Red Wizards there, the problem is it's all just more than a little bit silly, imho.

So, Tazi, last seen here-

#133 Sands of the Soul by Voronica Whitney-Robinson (Sembia 6)

Has gone on holiday to Thay, I'll let you have a moment before I press on, perhaps you could take that moment to think about the idea of holidaying in Thay, I mean the sense in it... zero, is correct.

Admittedly she's actually in Thay to get hold of the Crimson Gold, because- her dad had some (the Old Owl) and she stole it, and then he died... and so now she's looking for a way to say goodbye.

Then she gets into a fight (in Thay), and gets arrested- tried (of a sort) and sold into slavery, so that's nice. It's an eye-opener when it happens, and I'm learning things, but it seems to me that lesson #1 is don't go to Thay. Everyone in the Inn (even the other outsiders there) knows to keep their heads down when it all kicks off, but not Tazi.

You see, and whisper this... she's not bright enough to stay alive.

Then it gets a bit silly because Tazi thinks she's got it bad because she's a poor little rich girl and now bad things have happened, and while her sympathy for the downtrodden folk is nice to hear it just smacks of the usual blandishments. This is another novel about a monied, experienced, confident, skilled, etc. etc. with all the advantages in life having a rough time and thinking that somehow that gives them the license to tell it like it is.

Not that it's particularly rough, Tazi turns out to be the only slave that rides in the cart with her mistress, is well fed, not much abused (save a little verbal) and... well, she gets away with blue-murder, again and again. I think slavery (for a great many) may be a little more harsh than Tazi's experience here.

Later Tazi will charm Szass Tam (Zulkir of Necromancy, and way big cheese in Thay) and even cause the lich to get a little frisky, because who could resist? During this time she will also take over the running of Thay, it's armies of Blooded Orcs, Darkenbeasts et al and will save the despicable despot and all that sail within from fire and a volcano spewing devils/demons.

It's all a bit much, and more so because standing by her side is a Duergar called Justikar, and the odd thing is he's everything that she's not- he's a realist, he's a grump, he's had it tough, he's been beaten/broken/clawed and... He's in the story for the same reason as Tazi- it's about family, Justikar is looking for his long lost dreamer brother, and looking for more of his people...

I feel sorry for Justikar, I want him to succeed, I want to help him, I like him.

I feel sorry for Szass Tam that Tazi went to Thay, although I am certain that having experienced the place then it's a lot less frightening- those in charge are neither cruel, nor malicious (much) neither however are they bright, experienced et al. In fact how did they come to be the villain in so many other stories in this series, they are- if this is an example of the kind, a bunch of mewling cowards and idiots.

Again, there were some nice things to learn here but, the story- not good, silly.

The main character, overshadowed by her sidekick.

The main villain, made to look like a lecherous sod, but not much better.



Cheers goonalan.


The EN World kitten
I mentioned way back in my take on Jean Rabe's Red Magic that this particular story was the "kinder, gentler" Szass Tam, and it shows. While he struck me more as a jaded romantic than being particularly lecherous, the fact that he - the cold-hearted lich who routinely manipulates a nation of hostile wizards - is taken in by Tazi's wonderfulness is all the indictment that needs to be made of this novel. I don't like to throw the term "Mary Sue" around, simply because it tends to degenerate into arguments about what it really means and if a given character is actually one, but it seems apt here.

Beyond that, my strongest impression of this story was that it was an Erevis Cale-adjacent story. That is, while this technically stands on its own, I had a distinct feeling that this was one of those side stories where a supporting character from a greater epic gets to spend some time in the spotlight. Like a loyal sidekick being thrown a bone by getting their own outing, the overall offering is kind of pointless, and that certainly fits with what's here. "Sancho Panza's day out," in other words.

I mean, something like Eltab getting free (or almost getting free? It's been a long time since I read this) should have had bigger results, but the entire thing never lost its feeling of a Spring Break romp. A friend of mine swears up and down that I should read the Cale stories, and maybe he's right about them being compelling, but with this being the only one to have crossed my path, I just can't get excited over them.


#159 The Yellow Silk by Don Bassingthwaite (Rogues 4)
Read 27/4/22 to 3/5/22


Well, it's the best of the four Rogues book by far, but... not a work of subtle genius, the best thing about it being that it doesn't take its self, or the genre, too seriously. Better still it doesn't settle for a rogue, our hero, Tycho, is a bard, and his soon to be best-friend is a monk, and his name is Li. That's the first and most obvious thing about this one, we're in Spandeliyon (and I've never even heard of this place before) and Li is one of the Shou Lung, and that's also rare (in the books that I have read so far).

Caveat, most of the Shou stuff I have read so far has been mediocre, or mad.

But, this one isn't, or at least Li isn't, he's an arse at the start but more of a brother to Tycho (and we like him too) by the end.

There's also, and this is a massive spoiler here- so, you've been warned, there's some fantastic hot wereboar action, point of order the climax is just glorious, and the auther is forced to employ time stopping/overlapping narrative tricks so that he can concentrate in on three (or four) different fights (and pockets of action) as the epic tale unfolds.

The final fight is in the big (little) bad boss hin/halfling's lair which is a pig-sty, no... really, it's a pig-sty, where the pigs are kept. It involves Li fighting his wereboar older brother (and then on the roof) chop socky style (with appropriate, possibly racist, sound effects), while down below Tycho (and his mentor, and his would-be posh young lady apprentice) attempt to bring the tide in to drown all of their enemies (in a typical bardish style) including the aforementioned bad hin/halfling Brin, and the two crazy Red Wizards that are also in the fracas. Also in the picture, for at least some of the time, are Lander- a powerful thug that we've been visiting with, the rest of Brin and Lander's muscle and a pack of crazy boars/pigs.

It's a wild time.

Peter Jackson it isn't, if I was directing it I'd make sure there was plenty of slide-whistle and more than enough cowbell. It's gloriously epic and daft, but every one in the picture is also being/acting gloriously epic and daft, so- let's get to it.

Don't get me wrong, at the start we wander for a while, particularly because Li starts of proceedings by being an objectionable dolt, and Tycho is just phoning in his life; but over the course of the book- wouldn't you know it- both of them change, and get a fresh perspective on things (and each other).

Just to make clear, there's a lot to like here, from the places and the people, to just the nice stuff that comes with watching how bards work, that's all great. The story, when it kicks up a notch particularly, is a delight- it's all going on. Again, there's a lot of false starts and exposition to begin with, and the Hooded is a hoot, and... it kind of fits into the whole, sorta. But, I'm not complaining, and again- particularly in light of the rest of the novels in this series, this one's the pearl (before swine- see the book). Mostly because it doesn't take itself too seriously, it delights in what it does, someone said have fun with it- and Don Bassingthwaite did just that.

Loved the ending with Lander in the oubliette.

Read, if you fancy a grin then you should too- stick with it.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan.
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#160 Venom's Taste by Lisa Smedman (Serpents 1)
Read 3/5/22 to 9/5/22


Well, it started well enough, and there’s lots to learn for a guy like me that’s nosing his way around the Realms, Hlondeth seems to be a fun little city- home and ruled by the yuan-ti, and everyone else… the humans, well- they’re mostly slaves or else they’ve performed some other service to earn their chevrons.

So, there’s a bit of threat from the get-go, and yet… it’s no darker or else nastier than the merchant streets of Selgaunt, or anywhere else really. I like the architecture of the place, and the set up/opening chapters make it clear how the city runs, and who’s in charge. A little later we visit Execution Square but by then, well the plot is off and running.

And again, the beginning of the plot thread is all well and good, Zelia- the yuan-ti psion bad person has planted a mind seed in Arvin’s (our hero) head that will turn him into a yuan-ti in about a week, so that's nice- the ticking clock. Zelia is, of course, suitably enigmatic, mysterious, uncaring and high-level nasty.

Also, wouldn’t you know it, Arvin has some psionic skills of his own- and he’s on a journey to make sense of his new found powers, and to put them to good use, a little later he discovers the good luck stone (nine lives) he’s been wearing is actually packed full with more useful powers.

Funny that!

I liked the how to be a psion-stuff, it’s the plot that I got turned around by.

There are some bad guys, let’s call them the Pox people and they want to unleash a poison into the city water supply and in the name of Talona (Lady of Poison) make the inhabitants suffer. Only the Pox people are being manipulated/used by a bunch of other yuan-ti, and the poison is actually a potion that will turn all those that succumb to it into yuan-ti under the master’s power (Sybil, possibly). Got that?

Arvan and his best friend Naulg are captured by the Pox people and get a taste of the above potion, but Arvan survives the poison’s/potion’s effect (with a little help from Zelia) and now he must rescue his friend. But stop, the weak bit here is that Arvan is a loner, and when he says Naulg is his best friend, well… by his own admission, he doesn’t have any other real/actual friends, but at this point Zelia has already planted her mind seed in him and so he’s really got no choice.

Then… the plot, and it’s this. Arvin goes somewhere he shouldn’t, he gets attacked/triggers a trap and then gets whacked unconscious/captured and… he overhears something of import. Then he escapes. Phew close one.

Then Arvin goes somewhere else that he really shouldn’t, and then… he gets attacked/triggers a trap and then gets whacked unconscious/captured and… he overhears something else of import.


The plot, of course, sorts itself out by the end- the big barrel of bad stuff that was to go into the water supply is neutralised (actually turned into a poison that will kill the Pox people) by Nicco, a cleric of Hoar, who is probably more the hero of this story than Arvan. Although, how does Nicco do this? In the scene in question the invisible priest is fighting for his life with a yuan-ti, and yet he’s still able to save the day. I don’t actually understand how the cleric saves the day but, y’know- Nicco tells us (and Arvan) what he has done so, he must have done it. Phew, that was close.

But it wasn’t close.

That’s part of the problem, our guy Arvan ends up telling some other folk what’s going on- Zelia, Nicco, the other Secessionist, Tanju et al- and the second party (not Arvan) then fix whatever is amiss, or else that’s what it seems like.

But I’ll be honest some bits of this one were a little confusing, it doesn’t help the reader (but it does Arvan) that he keeps having dreams about Zelia and her life (this a side-effect of the mind seed that she’s planted). A lot of these dreams are weird- yuan-ti & wemic sex act weird, and they just enter the narrative without intro, although they usually happen just after Arvan has got knocked unconscious/captured again.

I swear to you I have not read another novel in this setting in which the hero has had (seemingly) so little control over their journey, and so little direct influence over the plot. Point of fact towards the end the plot is more about Arvan trying to prevent himself from being turned into a yuan-ti puppet of Zelia. But even this, the final climax, is kinda daft; somehow Arvan during the course of his struggles has now developed his psionic power so that he is able to surgically remove Zelia’s ability to plant mind seeds, and in the same instance make her believe that he is dead. My problem is a lot of this is just told to us, the reader is just presented with the outcome- there’s a fight/fracas/encounter, some action- with death, destruction, spells and psionics and then… an explanation of what went on, including the solving of the problem- none of which appears in the action described.

It’s… at best, not my style. At worst, a little confusing- odd, even.

Here’s the other thing, I don’t much like Arvan and I’m not sure why I should- I prefer, in this order, the following characters- Nicco, Zelia & Tanju. Just to make clear, I would have preferred it if Zelia won and Arvan spent the rest of the trilogy as a yuan-ti, I would have looked forward to the other two novels more, as it is…

Well, read... and I'm not looking forward to the next one.

To make clear- it's well written, and there's some nice yuan-ti/Hlondeth/psionic action (all stuff I can use) but the rest of it, it just seems a bit of mix/mess, and Arvan except for telling tales, doesn't exactly solve the mystery, or shine. At times he seems surrounded by folk that could do a better job, or else they just swing in and... well, do a better job.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan.


The EN World kitten
And again, the beginning of the plot thread is all well and good, Zelia- the yuan-ti psion bad person has planted a mind seed in Arvin’s (our hero) head that will turn him into a yuan-ti in about a week, so that's nice- the ticking clock.
I haven't read this, but based on your review I might have to go back and look for it; mind seed is one of those powers which is a plot thread unto itself (even if it can be held at bay indefinitely via protection from evil). Hence why kalaraq quori on Eberron had their own version, focused mind seed, which Keith Baker talks about more over here.

Dire Bare

I haven't read this, but based on your review I might have to go back and look for it; mind seed is one of those powers which is a plot thread unto itself (even if it can be held at bay indefinitely via protection from evil). Hence why kalaraq quori on Eberron had their own version, focused mind seed, which Keith Baker talks about more over here.
It's been a while since I've read this one . . . but that's what I remember my reaction being. "Mind seed? That's just one spell! Well, it works as the hook for this entire story!" I remember liking this one, with psionics, the mind seed story hook, and yuan-ti as major, well fleshed-out characters.


#161 Viper's Kiss by Lisa Smedman (Serpents 2)
Read 10/5/22 to 17/5/22


Well, I struggled with this one too, and so what can I say? I don't want you to think that there's anything wrong or bad with these last two novels, Smedman uses fine words, everything is well plotted and described, and... yet, I just can't get into this series.

There's a paucity of action, by which I mean plenty goes on in the way of intrigue and event and yet I find myself missing the cut and thrust of a good combat encounter, as described in detail in very many other books here. Sure- sometimes there are just too many choreographed fights, but in this series- well, not enough; the tension is here but much less apparent. I feel that I am being told at times, rather than shown, but again... I think that's more to do with my likes, rather than a failing of the author.

The series also feels a little less D&D than some of the others, and in the previous novel I found myself getting lost once or twice, having to go back five pages to read again- to try to figure out where the hero (Arvan) was at.

As always there are things to like here, the Yuan-ti magical impregnation of Foesmasher's (silly name) daughter feels like a new and nasty thing, something I'm going to store away in my DM's mind for a rainy day in my game. I'm still enamoured with the methods and model of psionics use, that's still good, but- I still don't like Arvan as much as I should. In this one I found myself caring more about Karrell, she seems to have had a much more interesting story- and (new/alien) world view.

Every now and then I still get to thinking- wouldn't it have been great if the Mind Seed did it's thing and our hero (still Arvan) was having to learn to live with being a yuan-ti, maybe learning the ropes from Karrell.

The end of this one however left me hoping- Karrell has been taken (most likely) to the Abyss, and I'm always keen for an author to venture there. So, looking forward to the next one a little more than I thought I would when I was stuck in the middle of this one.

Stay safe and well you lovely people.

Cheers goonalan.

Every now and then I still get to thinking- wouldn't it have been great if the Mind Seed did it's thing and our hero (still Arvan) was having to learn to live with being a yuan-ti, maybe learning the ropes from Karrell.
If the mind seed did its thing, Arvan would be effectively dead and his mind replaced with a copy of Zelia's mind including all her knowledge. And his body would still be physically human. It doesn't change a person's species. It's the potion that does that.
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