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

Missed this one I own the WotSQ.

Lisa was very good in that. I liked Elaine a lot but that series pushed her to number 2 in Drow related stuff she's probably my overall number 1 though but haven't read all her books.

And it's hard finding any D&D books here espicially out of print ones from a decade+ ago.
I was thoroughly drowed out by the time this one came around, so I never read it (hell, I was thoroughly drowed out by the time the WoSQ happened...)

Most older D&D novels are available on kindle from amazon these days, if that's your thing. Hell, Amazon AU tells me that it actually has a new paperback copy of this particular one for sale, goodness knows how.

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#199 Storm of the Dead by Lisa Smedman (Lady Penitent 2)
Read 27/8/23 to 3/9/23


Well, it's more of the same, and as well written, but here's the thing- not as good as the last one.

Q'arylnd was the stand out fellow of the last one, but in this- he gets a little too drow, by which I mean self-serving, unctuous and very calculating. In the first one he seemed to be discovering a different way of doing things, he was becoming very un-drow-like, and each time he did the right/good thing he got a feeling, which the author took a moment (at times) to explore. I liked that. I like my anti-heroes to get a frisson every now and then- doing good might not serve my greater purpose but... there is power in the union. That kind of thing.

Q'arylnd, in this one, is a less sympathetic character, and he gets to sit at the back for this one- at times. Q'arylnd, I thought, was capable of going full Drizzt- and this would have been a harder victory; Drizzt was already half out of the gang when he got going. So, not so good, he's too MBA in this one.

Also, it all seemed a little peremptory at the end, don't get me wrong the trip to the dead center, the Acropolis of the dead (and aged = crones) well, it was great the getting there with mad encounters aplenty in the tunnels into the undead hell, but then... Then it wasn't getting done (the bad guys defeated), then it was, then... oh, they've won! That was quick.

It all got a bit, well... bitty.

I enjoyed Cavatina versus Wendonnai, and the fleeing of Halisstra to the main event, but... at times it seemed that the main show was getting over-shadowed by the subplot.

Then there's the divination squared-triangle at the end in which X has seen the future of Y, and A has seen the future of B, and Q has seen the future of Q, and I'm still left wondering- how the heck did they get the door open because I'm not sure I made sense of it. But they get the door open and everyone gets more magic- so, that's nice, although Q'arylnd at this point has become full CEO, and I'm much less impressed.

Then there's Qilue who is now the Lady in the Mask wot Dances, or some such, or else her boss is, or else that's what folk want us to believe, or else... well, something else.

So, not as much fun as the last one, plenty of fun you understand, just a bit shot gun at the end.


Stay safe and well you lovely people.

Cheers goonalan


The EN World kitten
I'm pretty sure that it was at this point that it became clear that this trilogy was essentially going to be about offing gods left and right. I suspect that I might have been much more invested if it hadn't been for the fact that, as I mentioned before, it was very clearly being done to provide an in-character explanation for why these deities weren't going to be around in 4E.

There's a debate to be had with regard to which is the tail and which is the dog when it comes to tabletop RPG campaign worlds and novels set in those worlds, i.e. should the development of the world follow the fiction or vice versa? In this case, the fiction was taking its cues from what the design and development people were laying out, and it showed by how fast the pantheon was being culled. I've mentioned before that kind of corporate directive doesn't have to be an impediment to good storytelling (the Haunted Lands trilogy is very good), but something about the localized way in which gods of a particular pantheon kept getting slaughtered just felt a little too forced for me.

Of course, I think part of it was the implication that Lolth had decided that it was time to make the drow pantheon have exactly one god: herself. I can sort of see her going this route, especially since the point of the Silence (from the previous six-book series) was to elevate herself to a greater deity. But while capriciousness is the elan of a Chaotic Evil deity, it still felt a tad too convenient for my liking. Maybe it was because the sava (i.e. chess) game analogy doesn't seem to work when the deity in question is one of chaos and cruelty; chaos doesn't have to mean stupidity, but it usually means overt cheating, and quite often simply upsetting the entire board.


#200 Ascendancy of the Last by Lisa Smedman (Lady Penitent 3)
Read 4/9/23 to 11/9/23


Well... it's not as good as the last one, which was a little less good than the one before. It seems the first one in this series made more of the characters, or else at the start of their journey they were as much anti-hero as hero, and so there was conflict within- Q'arylnd slowly figuring out that there was another way of doing things, to treat folk with respect and not just try and screw them over all of the time. I liked that. The same to some extent with Cavatina before her redemption, only the other way around- hard hearted, unforgiving to begin with, certain of her certainty, as it turns out- in the end- everything is a lot more complicated than she thought at the beginning.

The central character's internal journeys are perhaps a step up from some of the other novels/series here, which are much more monotone, or else other central characters just embody good and right and all that other shizz and just don't need to change, or else to learn anything more. They're heroes, all that is... yada yada, but this series has been better than that.

That said, I still liked this one the least, and perhaps that's because by the time I got to the end it did all just start to feel less like some cosmic unravelling of great events (at the Sava board) and more like the author was being constrained by her governors, the milieu/edition is changing- we need you to do away with a selection of the Drow gods, like Highlander there can only be one.

But again the action at the end is fairly splendid, twist within twist, within... well, twist. Just not enough to make me like it more, and the fact that Q'arylnd has become a CEO, well... there's not much for the common man (me) to like with this change. By the end I just wanted him dead and/or gone, my prejudices okay but by the end I had no sympathy for him, or else very little. Yes, he learned to do the right thing, but the right thing mostly coincided with his assent to power, so... less heroic.

Cavatina's story is similar, except the changes wrought on her make her less likeable too, or else her heroism is tragic and heart-wrenching and... well, the usual stuff. Glorious and epic, maybe- but the twists keep on coming and its difficult to decide at times whether I should be cheering for her, or for Qilue, or for Halisstra, the not knowing makes me read on, but the outcome- see above, just seemed like the shuffling of pieces on the sava board. The metaphor/allegory of the sava game (chess with Death anyone?) becomes cumbersome because that's what it all boils down to- some higher ups shoving around various pieces and deciding who will live and who will die. I already live in that world.

A well written and entertaining series, that peters out towards the end- epic and interesting, the places it goes and the people/creatures it sees and chats with, but at some point I started liking the central characters less, all of them- and that halved my enjoyment of the finale.


Stay safe and well you lovely people.

Cheers Paul

PS I just thought of this- perhaps the entire series is the author telling us dear readers that she too has been constrained and manipulated by her higher ups, the authors at TSR/WotC are being shoved around the sava board, from project to project (hopefully) or from project to unemployment (off the board) by the Dark Lord Hasbro who fears to share power. Maybe.
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The EN World kitten
Just now noticed that this had updated; I swear, it's a shame that this thread always seems to get scrolled off the front page so fast.

As it is, I agree that this one ended with a whimper more than a bang, which feels disappointing since the deaths of multiple deities and at least one epic-level character should have much more impact than this. As it is, I'm not sure how much I can keep blaming that on my being aware of the edition change that this was justifying; there were other things happening here which soured my enjoyment.

Halisstra's ending was one. I spent a really long time wanting to like her, but in the end her indecisiveness toward which god she served became irritating, feeling more like a source of frustration than a tragic character flaw. I like the idea of characters who damn themselves by their own actions, but that's usually when they insist on following a course of action that's clearly self-destructive, insisting that it's the rest of the world that's wrong, not them. Halisstra's inability to commit to a deity came across as wishy-washy, and that wasn't something I could invest in for a character who was supposed to be a protagonist.

Likewise, the appearance of Qilue was a bit underwhelming. She's always been the most enigmatic of the Seven Sisters, and I had the distinct impression that she was making a guest appearance here, more of a cameo than taking a real role. Normally, I'd be analyzing how well her character here synced up with her other appearances, but she has so few other appearances I mostly just wanted this to help define her, and it didn't feel like that happened. I couldn't get a handle on what sort of person she was; I seem to recall a scene where she was irritated when one of her sisters showed up, for instance, as though she didn't like them, and I didn't know why (beyond some vaguely-implied religious tension, i.e. someone devoted to Mystra shouldn't be showing up at Eilistraee's temple). It just came across as unfulfilling.

Similarly, I didn't understand the entire thing with Wendonai and how there was a distinct ethnicity of elves who became drow because of his influence, unlike most of the rest of the drow. It became this weird (sub)plot which was treated as being a major point that characters focused on, and the emphasis it received felt disproportionate. Like, Lolth is knocking off drow deities left and right, wanting to be the only one...and the big plan is "wait, these elves became drow due to Wendonai's curse; if we undo it, they'll all be saved...and us too!" It's like if Bane was going to blow up all of Gotham City with a nuke, and Batman decides that he can save one busload of people. I get that the protagonists here aren't the good guys, but a lot of their planning seems oddly fixated on achieving a lesser solution, rather than a greater one.

Overall, I feel like this series needed more room to breathe than it had. Maybe @Goonalan is right about Lisa Smedman having a hidden message about writing under corporate constraints. The previous series was six books long, and dealt with the fallout of one god disappearing (i.e. was feared/hoped dead); this one was three books long, and saw multiple deities bite the dust. It just didn't have the pages to do what it wanted to do, and the execution suffered for it.


#201 Depths of Madness by Erik Scott de Bie (Dungeons 1)
Read 21/9/23 to 23/9/23


So, I was looking forward to this series, and for a variety of reasons- 1) it's a Dungeon, capital D, who doesn't like a Dungeon- self-contained, tricksy, murderous, challenging... love it; 2) it's a party of adventurers, again- what's not to like, and you know from the get-go that you are not going to get vanilla, they're going to be out there the PCs, and undoubtedly groovy with it- check; 3) I'm a DM first, a Faerun-reader second (or maybe fifth), my point- I'm here for what I can steal/take/nab for my game, and my game- well... I like a dungeon, lots of other stuff as well, but... I like a Dungeon.

So, we start in the middle of something, Twilight- I've heard of her before somewhere (Short story my Mr De Bie- The Greatest Treasure, in... one I've read already- an Anthology, I forget which), is stuck in a cell, in a dungeon, and her keeper is some sort of demonic/devil-kin Troll. Actually the Troll is called Tlork, and for some reason I like that name a lot. Tlork. Good onomatopoeia. Anyway- Twilight, as the name implies, is not so easily confined- she gets out, captures Tlork. Tlork! And then releases the other prisoners, and they're all great, except for Liet who is a dork. To make clear- Liet is the odd one out (to me) from the very start. It's almost a shame that he turns out to be the big bad guy.

Or else one of them.

There's also a silent and deadly Goliath hunter, a mad female (strange) halfling that has a little magic and likes to acquire stuff (natch), then there's a nasty Warlock straight from Central Casting (Mwah-ha-ha & Co), a half-elf female holy avenger accompanied by her badly injured now fairly decrepit human husband wizard, and... did I miss one?

So, they're all a bit out there, or else Mwah-ha-ha, except maybe Liet.

The rest is Alien the movie, or else five little... four little... three little... two little Indians.

And it's great.

I don't get how everyone got here, or else what's going on- except, well... we're early enough into this one so, I'll let that slide for a while and trust the author to catch-me-up with what it's all about in a bit. He does, of course, it's not that convincing but... by this time I want to know how it all ends.

The PCs are great, although at times I ended up going back and forth with Twilight- but that was mainly because she was unnecessarily complicated at times, or else the author just dug a little too deep- perhaps he needed to find more of an arc for his central character. However let me make clear- what Twilight represents is a strong female central character who is in charge of her sexuality and... a balsy anti-hero that would perhaps appeal to a younger, and maybe even female audience, which doesn't happen a lot around here. At least not that I've seen, or read. Don't get me wrong- it's silly, and ditsy, and fractious, and it does a lot of punning, and... it's like a lot of others, certainly no worse. Mr De Bie however seems to keep all of the balls in the air all of the time.

The characters are great, the dungeon- sorry Dungeon- and its denizens are suitably nasty. bad, et al. The plot, such as it is, is okay- get out/survive, and figure out along the way who or what the bad people are. So, for maybe 250 pages I'm hooked, and keep in mind I read this in three sittings, although the final sitting was only the last 50 pages, I raced through it.

The end's a bit of a mess- the Sharrn, an ancient Netherese city, a Mythal, a demonic what-not, a bit I don't even understand in which the Goliath rescues Twilight and I'm still not sure how but the pair end up in a camp of Goliaths for a free heal/power-up, and... about three other tricksy endings in which much-loved villains turn up for their finale, their last curtain call- Gestal/Liet, Tlork! Davoren without the front teeth, and then... then there's a double epilogue type of thing for some other villains to declare their hand and stab each other in the back.

There are just so many ideas here, particularly in the finale, none of them particularly resolved in immensely satisfying ways, but it's a great book because it's they are great characters in a good situation/scenario, and that's enough- that's what I'm here for.


Stay safe and well you lovely people.

Cheers Paul


The EN World kitten
So, we start in the middle of something, Twilight- I've heard of her before somewhere (Short story my Mr De Bie- The Greatest Treasure, in... one I've read already- an Anthology, I forget which)
It was "Realms of the Elves." I know that, not because I've actually read that book – or this one, for that matter – but because it's mentioned in the write-up that de Bie made of Fox's character; I've attached it here, for everyone's convenience. It is, quite honestly, a great summary of her personality and abilities, and reading it makes me want to pick up a copy of everything she's appeared in, though to date I have yet to do so.


  • tdom-part1.pdf
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#202 The Howling Delve by Jaleigh Johnson (Dungeons 2)
Read 24/9/23 to 1/10/23


It's an odd book, or else my head wasn't in the game when I started reading it. There was a good while at the start when I really wasn't sure what was going on- but I've learnt to just hang-on in there, often reality takes shape a bit further in, and so it proved with this one. Part of the problem is the set-up is very much the weakest link- two fathers and two sons (one for each father), then betrayal and... well, a mess. One of the dad's chooses to betray the other and throw in his lot (and his son's lot) with the Shadow Thieves. Well, that's nice- who are they? And that's my point- who are the Shadow Thieves, should I quake with fear, or... Later on the Shadow Thieves are elevated to the big bad guys for the climax, and I'm still none the wiser. The Shadow Thieves are bad people- sure, got that, but I've not seen one in action, so I've only your word (Jaleigh Johnson) on that, and there's not a lot more chatter about them, so... they ain't all that.

My point is this- the bad guys are a little too mysterious, or else not given enough exposure at the start, for all I know they're just another bunch of rogues and ruffians, pretty run-of-the-mill in fact. Thank heavens there's also a titanic (Predator-like) fire demon on the loose in the Howling Delve for the climax, and when this foul beast turns up- well, may I present to you the terrifying big bad guy, this fellow has the skills to pay the bills.

So, it's a little confusing, and more so when we abandon the father's and son's for good chunks of the novel, because we're also slumming in the Howling Delve with Meisha, who is the real hero of this story. The Howling Delve itself is a remnant of an ancient dwarven empire, a place set aside/abandoned to bad magic and worse- the dwarves here sold their souls to Abbathor, the dwarven god of greed, they forsook Dumathoin (the Secret Under The Mountain), and that's the real story here- how we get to the end of this particular badness.

Which leaves me with questions with regard to the start of this one, the fathers and sons thing just seems like an awkward way into the story proper. It's not terrible as it is just, odd- however, the rest of it is gravy. The Howling Delve, even when it was settled, is a creepy and strange place- somewhere I'd send my PCs, definitely. When we re-visit the Delve for the climax- well, it's a horrible place- and when the fire demon gets loose, superb.

Think Predator, or else Alien (mostly 3). Nice.

The rest is the story, which goes back and forth, and is put on hold anyway when the demon gets out- it's all against the demon, screw the Shadow Thieves thing, we need to survive this. But again this kinda just makes a mockery of the fathers and sons plot, when it comes to it the two sides stand together, I'm therefore less excited when the big bad demon is gone and they have to settle on an ending.

Again, it's an odd book- some of it seems to be great, specifically Meisha's story, the early Delve-days, and the rip-roaring conclusion, which includes a manifestation of Dumathoin that I am just outright stealing for my game. The rest of it... it's just structure. It's alright, but compared to the other stuff.

Sorry, short but V busy these days, the students are back in the building.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers Paul


Read Frostfell on your glowing recommendation...and it's great! Read it in 24 hours like yourself as the story just pulsed along and the characters were so compelling.

It wasn't perfect - there was some repetition in the explanation scenes, and maybe a few too many battles - but overall a pleasure to read.

In your review you says it easily gets into the top 10 - what are some others in the current top 10?! Would love to know!!! ty

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