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Journal of Peter Greenwell

Tag: d&d (page 1 of 2)

Elaine Bergstrom – Baroness of Blood

Baroness of Blood (Ravenloft, #12)Baroness of Blood by Elaine Bergstrom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My, what a nasty piece of work is Baroness Ilsabet Obour. But she’s a complex and well-rounded nasty piece of work, which elevates this novel above popcorn level. More than most Ravenloft novels I’ve read, this one ascribes to many classic Gothic traditions, yet Ilsabet is imperilled not by a man, but by herself and her own courses of action. She is haunted – internally and externally, and throughout the length of the novel she vacillates and questions if what she’s doing is the wisest way, and in the conclusion, things get resolved in the poetic justice sense of resolution.

The novel is dark, make no mistake. There’s no light, joy or laughter anywhere here. It’s only the dumb and clueless secondary characters in this novel which stop me from awarding this five stars. Ilsabet is surrounded by idiots when her character cries out for effective foils and counters.

Still, this is one of the better Ravenloft outings.

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Richard Awlinson – Waterdeep

Waterdeep (Forgotten Realms: Avatar #3)Waterdeep by Troy Denning
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As good as the book before it in nearly every way. That’s to say we have x amount of pages of escapist popcorn-level fantasy that’s pretty much devoid of things like character building, literary flair and so on. Of course, you don’t read Forgotten Realms novels for these reasons – well, one hopes you don’t. Still, this is an enjoyable romp and wraps up a mostly serviceable trilogy about ordinary people becoming gods and goddesses in a magic-bedevilled world. So, this is the end for the “raven-haired mage”, the “hawk-nosed thief” and the “green-eyed warrior.” All wrapped up.

Well, it should wrap things up but there’s two additional books in this series. *Sigh* isn’t there always?

Whatever. It’s all good fun.

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Richard Awlinson – Tantras

Tantras (Forgotten Relalms: Avatar #2)Tantras by Scott Ciencin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Superior effort in nearly every way to its predecessor. It isn’t boring, which of course is a huge plus, and it’s almost a criminal offence for a D&D book to be tedious to read. Regardless of their value as literature, they should be popcorn page-turners.

Well, Tantras thankfully is. It’s competently written though it has all the faults of this particular niche of fantasy fiction – that’s to say minimal characterisation, few grey moral areas. overly tight plotting and character motivations that occasionally border on the nonsensical. Bad guys are bad guys because the plot says so, not from any logical reason or story progression.

But, as I keep saying in these D&D reviews: it’s all good fun. This time around, it actually was good fun. Here’s hoping the next instalment is just as fluid,.

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Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis – Dragons of Winter Night

Dragons of Winter Night (Dragonlance: Chronicles, #2)Dragons of Winter Night by Margaret Weis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Not as good as the first one. It lacked a certain something, and the way the narrative jumped around wasn’t ideal either. I found it a little harder in this instalment to care about the characters too – the authors obviously want you to care – but for mine, there wasn’t enough given reasons to care. They’re not as cardboard-y or as stock as in some other D&D novels out there, but because of the frequently discursive narrative, there’s not enough time to build up a rapport.

And dare I say it, but of all the D&D worlds, I have a preference for the Forgotten Realms. Ed Greenwood may have his faults as a writer of fiction, but the world he created is a compellingly deep place. Krynn? Not so much – not yet, I suppose. Over the length of two books, it hasn’t really taken on more lustre than you’d expect from imaginary places on a drawn map.

In Krynn’s defence, I’m only two books in. With a few more tomes under my belt, maybe this initial shallow impression will deepen. I just hope there aren’t too many more blah instalments like this one.

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Kate Novak – The Wyvern’s Spur

The Wyvern's Spur (Forgotten Realms: Finder's Stone, #2)The Wyvern’s Spur by Kate Novak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More of a 3.75 out of 4. Not quite on the same entertaining level the first novel was, and that’s primarily the fault of the character Giogioni Wyvernspur, who spends the first 75% of the book a well-meaning doddering fool. In the end, when he mans up as such, things get moderately better.

The character of Flattery, the villain of the piece, is intriguingly written too – he’s a nasty piece of work, even resorting to hitting women, not something I expected to see in a D&D novel. Congratulations to Kate Novak for making a genuinely unlikable character.

As with the first book, Olive Ruskettle is the most well-rounded character here, morally and ethically ambivalent, though he rings true in the end. I enjoyed her knowing and cynical take on things.

Congratulations also for making an entertaining D&D novel where there’s almost minimal adventuring. All of the books in the Forgotten Realms series have been picaresque adventures. Not this one. The action mainly takes place inside and a few miles around Giogi’s manor house, and it works. There’s no need for a-roving I will go here.

Overall, a slightly weaker effort than the book before it, but it’s among the better non-Salvatore Forgotten Realms novels I’ve read.

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Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis – Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Dragons of Autumn Twilight  (Dragonlance: Chronicles, #1)Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alrighty then, this was a fun and painless read. Of course, it was completely non-challenging as far as literature goes, but that’s not the point, and rarely is the point for this kind of work. This is entertainment, and entertain it did, which is why I’ve awarded it four stars rather than three. Naturally, it was extremely derivative of another fantasy story a few people may have heard of, and the characterisations were sourced from central casting.

Despite this, it was written with verve and an obvious love for the land, times and culture of the world the book is set in. In saying so, there was a certain amount of grey room syndrome here, as playing the Dragonlance modules beforehand may have been a given. From the narrative, it’s clear the reader was meant to have some familiarity with Raistlin, Sturm, et al, before delving into this book, despite being the first in the series.

All in all, I liked this story, for all its “me-tooism” and stock characters and situations. It flowed well, and it rarely sagged or got bogged down. Sure, I’ll read the rest of them.

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Kate Novak – Azure Bonds

I’ll preface this review by saying that Curse of the Azure bonds is the only Gold Box game in the Forgotten Realms series I haven’t played. I own it, so I should rectify that…

Azure Bonds (Forgotten Realms: Finder's Stone, #1)Azure Bonds by Kate Novak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great fun and it’s one of the better D&D books I’ve read. The ending was vaguely familiar to me and I was wondering if I’d read this book before, maybe when it was released. It’s hard to say, as I don’t generally forget books that I’ve read. Either way, it’s fast-moving and entertaining and doesn’t suffer the saccharine and soppy moments the Ed Greenwood books do. And despite characterisation not being the strong point of these D&D stories, there was something obliquely appealing about the characters of Alias and Olive Ruskettle.

Very good. Bring on the sequels.

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P N Elrod – I, Strahd

I, Strahd: The Memoirs of a Vampire (Ravenloft, #7)I, Strahd: The Memoirs of a Vampire by P.N. Elrod
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A five star Dungeons and Dragons book? Yes, this is it. Everything clicked with this instalment – the narrative, the characterisations, the pacing, everything. Elrod’s erudite and understated style is a welcome change from the usual quasi-fanfic renditions some of these D&D novels are – hi Ed Greenwood!

Elrod makes Strahd incredibly three dimensional. He was a cipher in the previous books in this series where he featured – a bad Hollywood Dracula – but here? It’s incredible to watch his descent from determined and honourable soldier to self-serving and self-absorbed vampire. You almost sympathise with his plight – almost.

I, Strahd is a cautionary tale like no other, and if the rest of the Ravenloft franchise is half as good as this, then I’ll be happy to read them.

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Ed Greenwood – Hand of Fire

Hand Of Fire (Forgotten Realms: Shandril's Saga, #3)Hand Of Fire by Ed Greenwood
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Wow…I struggled to finish this. It’s just that bad. Which is a shame as you don’t want your Forgotten Realms books to be bad – you want them to kick ass (even if it’s all popcorn). But when the milieu’s creator writes an execrably bad book, then what can you say?

Basically the protagonist and her whiny husband nuke, obliterate, annihilate, incinerate, deep fry, fricassee, broil, roast, scorch, blast and excoriate every one of the legion of over-confident bad guys that contend with her. Just endless waves of them. It’s like the literary version of Serious Sam 3.

That’s it. That’s what happens in this concluding tome. There’s zero character development at all, no suspense, and the marvellous world the author created barely gets a mention. Every dangerous encounter is swept aside by Shandril’s super-powers or the timely arrival of her equally faceless Harper allies.

Oh, Shandril dies at the end but she’ll come back as a ghost to keep a watch on Narm, who gets sent off to find himself another wife. Narm…urgh, through the course of these three poorly written adventures, he’s the common denominator that weighs them down. What a nobody! His single purpose is to provide a pillow and a shoulder for Shandril to cry on after she’s finished vaporising the opposition for the day. He’s an ineffectual and annoying cipher.

Summary: a godawful book. On to fresh woods and pastures, etc.

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J Robert King – Carnival of Fear

Carnival of Fear (Ravenloft, #6)Carnival of Fear by J. Robert King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More of a 4.25 out of 5 but marked down a tad for routine characterisations.

What a pleasant little surprise this was. Of the six Ravenloft books I’ve read, this one was the icing on the cake so far, just edging out the first in the series . Of all of them, this is the one that actually delivered dark Gothic horror the best.

This is an effectively and chillingly nasty book, peopled with ugly characters (if a touch wooden) and a very ugly and unpleasant setting.

Some genuinely horrific things go on in this book, and that my friends, is what Ravenloft is meant to be about, no? The previous five books in this series flirted with the concept, sometimes dipped their toes into it, but this book is completely doused and drowned in it.

It’s not classic literature by any means, but it’s darkly entertaining and fast paced. Well done.

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