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Friday, November 20, 2020

November Book Haul: Another Round of Books, Please

    Some adventurers often find themselves in a taproom, ordering zzar or evermead and enjoying the burn as the warming beverage washes down their gullet as they listen to the hustle and cacophony of wassailing and resounding clatter of drinks hitting wood, and patrons calling out to peers. Drink, after drink, chatting and celebrating with their crew. Maybe they've just raided a Netherese ruin, or cleaned out the local goblin den. Maybe they're looking for glory and a quest to call their own, or are otherwise lost in numb thought. 
You call for another round of drinks, and spend the night in bleary torpor.

    Others, those who seek after knowledge of Mystra and Azuth, Oghma and Deneir, may not frequent the tavern though. They sit in a quiet, quaint hall or library; scholars may shuffle nearby; a candle may provide wan light. The occasional sneeze shouts out as centuries of dust and silence is disturbed by the study of curious minds. The questions of what can be discovered next, what understanding can be gleaned from the parchment, sits on their minds.
You find yourself searching for another set of tomes to satisfy your hungry mind, spending the night in cognitive vigor.


Alae! It's been awhile since I called for another round of Forgotten Realms novels. This month I gathered 24 more books to my collection. I am about half way to having each Forgotten Realms novel as I approach the 15% mark on reading them all.

This time around I got a good variety. I will just briefly go over them.

The Nobles, a series of 6 loosly connected stores. I picked up 4 in a bundle and the last two separate on eBay.  I am presently waiting for book 6 to arrive, which is The Simbul's Gift.

The Twilight War Trilogy + the Realms of War anthology. This is the sequel series to Erevis Cale, which I finished at the 1st of this month.

The Druidhome Trilogy, sequel to the Moonshae Trilogy. I got them bundled at a cheap price on eBay.

The Threat from the Sea trilogy, also has Realms of the Deep anthology that I have yet to get.

Twilight Giants is a trilogy by Troy Denning, I got a deal on the reprints.

The Last Mythal is a trilogy accompanied by the Realms of the Elves anthology that I have not yet gotten.

The Empyrean Odyssey, a trilogy of novels following a character from the War of the Spider Queen series. 

Along with this batch I also received an extra book from one of the vendors. I am not sure if I will give it away to a personal friend or run another giveaway like I did earlier this year. Regardless, whenever I do another one of these hauls it will likely be for Dragon magazines that have Forgotten Realms short stories in them.

Have you read any of these books? Did you read the physical thing or an ebook? What are your thoughts? Amarast!


You can track my current progress here.

Completed Series: Finder's Stone Trilogy by Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb

The Finder's Stone trilogy is a series of novels written by the husband and wife duo of Kate Novak & Jeff Grub. They were some of the first novels released in the Forgotten Realms setting, and along with other authors like Greenwood, Niles, etc. set a high bar for future novels to come. I read this series after I finished with Erevis Cale, as I was wanting to read one of the older series before continuing with Kemp's books. I was not disappointed with my choice.

Remember that I give each book a rating and at the end combine them to rate the series as a whole.

Azure Bonds (1988) - Exceptional

The Wyvern's Spur (1990) - Good

Song of the Saurials (1991) - Good

Azure Bonds begins with the warrior woman, Alias, waking up in The Hidden Lady inn in Suzail, Cormyr with amnesia and azure symbols tattooed onto her arm, made of odd sigils, "the sigils [are] alive the way a golem [is].” The year is 1357 DR, during the reign of Azoun IV. She embarks immediately to rid herself of the curse and the control they have over her. 

There is so much I loved here in Azure bonds, it's hard to condense it here, but I can say that the dialogue is written well; we get a good idea of what the lay of the Heartlands of Faerûn is like; and there are plenty of ideas thrown out that one can incorporate into their own game sessions.

We have a curse, a dragon, a lich, an evil sorceress, Moander an evil god, and a brave band of adventurers on an epic quest spanning from Yulash to Westgate. It's works like these that make me confused as to how The Crystal Shard became popular over works of the same time frame like Darkwalker on Moonshae and this book, Azure Bonds.

We learn about an interesting custom among dragon culture, called a Feint of Honor. I'm filing it away next time a draconic, imminent death is upon a character.

Among the party is a human wizard, a halfling "bard" and a bipedal, lizard dinosaur finhead; Dragonbait. Some may recognize him from Tomb of Annihilation.

The book was later adapted into an adventure and then an SSI video game, both titled Curse of the Azure Bonds.

This book is a great piece of Realms fiction, one I think anyone could enjoy. It is so full of goodies that it is nothing if not Exceptional. Unlike most which are about 300-320 pages long, this one is ~380.

 “From perils come pearl and power”

The Wyvern’s Spur starts in Ches 1358 DR, almost a year after the events of the first book. The main character is Giogi, the most tertiary character of the first book. A nice family tree is at the front along with a map of Immersea, Cormyr. For those wondering, though it says Amber Leona was born in 1333, being the daughter of Frefford and Gaylyn who get married in Azure Bonds. This is not Dale Reckoning. 1357-1358 DR is equivalent to 1332-1333.

Giogioni Wyvernspur, often described as a fop, reminds me a bit of Chaney Foxmantle and Tamlin Uskevren both from the Sembia series. This story is more lighthearted than Azure Bonds. Olive, from the first book, is present and is a key partner in helping Giogi solve the mystery of a stolen, magical heirloom.

While the book is a swift read, being around the 300 page mark of an average Forgotten Realms novel, I would like to point out that the back blurb is bad. The person mentioned on it doesn’t die until the 1/3 mark ; and Cat isn’t introduced until almost page 90. I would suggest not reading it if you can.

Overall I liked the Wyvernspur's and getting to know Immersea. The nobles patron is Selune, which is personally cool because my first 5e character was a paladin of Selune from Immersea.

The story is somewhat of a whodunit (like Ice Out or Spellstorm). While I guessed most surprises beforehand, I didn’t guess all, and it was fun to mentally sift through the evidence. Overall it has a compelling and enticing story that was fun to read; it is Good.

Song of the Saurials acts as more of a sequel to Azure Bonds, it seems to take place a month or two after the events of The Wyvern’s Spur. We are introduced to Nameless, Olive, Alias and crew relatively quickly and of course things become interesting; you may have guessed it has something to with saurials, Dragonbait’s race. I would not recommend skipping The Wyvern's Spur, though if you specifically care about Alias and Dragonbait, you easily could, as all pertinent information from The Wyvern's Spur does come out at some point.

“Nameless is only a man” 

The evil god Moander is the main threat in the third book, and unlike before where he seemed to have a willing clergy, now they all seem to be decaying puppets of the Darkbringer. This time, him as the villain, is not overshadowed by other threats as he was in Azure Bonds.

It is 1358 DR (though at one point Shend mentions an event from Azure Bonds being two years ago, though Azure Bonds is 1357, this is likely a mistake or just the character rounding up).

We see a lot more of Finder’s ego and Alias’s insecurities. Very interesting dynamic, and I think Alias and her "sisters" are an intriguing concept.

I overall have less to say about this book, it wasn't as compelling but tells a good story around trust. The ending helps this book a lot, and the action is sporadic, which wasn't bad. It could have profited from being longer. Good, but not as good as The Wyvern’s Spur

While the overall quality of the books go down, they are all enjoyable and easy to read. Finder's Stone, a powerful artifact, connects all three, though it's greatest role is played in the last book. Novak and Grubb showcased the Realms in a grand light early on, and I'm glad their tale holds up more than three decades later. They would go on to write book 10 of The Harper's series, and the two Lost Gods books set in the Realms. These are now books I looked excitedly forward to. The Finder's Stone Trilogy is Good.

Spoiler for end of book 3: when I make my next bard he will be a worshipper of Finder rather than Oghma or Milil.

"One eye to lift and one eye to sleep,

One to charm man and one for beast.

One eye to wound and one eye to slow,

One to bring fear and one to make stone.

One eye makes dust and one eye brings death,

But the last eye kills wizards more than all of the rest."


You can track my current progress here.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Review: Moonrise Over Myth Drannor by Ed Greenwood.

There is a long history of Forgotten Realms short stories being in Dragon Magazine ever since The First Notch was featured in issue 152 way back in 1989. Most short stories from Faerûn are from the multiplicity of anthologies with the titles being “Realms of ___” such as Magic, Valor, the Elves, etc. The first short story to not be in either is one only available in the manual of the AD&D game Eye of the Beholder 3: Assault on Myth Drannor. While other stories have appeared in similar manner, all of them have been printed in later anthologies, with the exception of the story found in the Eye of the Beholder 3 manual: Moonrise Over Myth Drannor by Ed Greenwood.

If you find a copy of the game manual you will find that the introduction section of he manual is on page 27; which means the first 26 pages are our short story which I had the great pleasure of reading. Before buying the game though I had asked around if anyone else had read it, and only one person responded, Ed Greenwood himself:

    No surprise then when teacups are quickly introduced.

The story is divided into two sections or chapters; I The Day of the Drawn Sword; and II Night On The Cold Hillside. The story starts with Delmair Rallyhorn journeying to Shadowdale to speak with the sage Elminster. He encounters a band of knights, to his astonishment, are all holding teacups. He then has an odd experience leaving him dumbfounded.

We then get a good glimpse of Mourgrym Amcathra, Lord of Shadowdale as he prepares for the festivities of The Day of the Drawn Sword; the holiday is one where new men-at-arms are recruited to join the Shadowdale guard. I was somewhat familiar with Mourngrym because of his appearance in the Finder’s Stone Trilogy, but it was pleasant to get more of his personality.

Alyth is a younger girl about 10 or 11 years old that plays an interesting role --quite literally-- during the festivities. She also seems to have found the hilt of Aumry Obarskyr’s sword, and is thanked by Elminster for doing so.

Eye of the Beholder 3 game manual
where Moonrise Over Myth Drannor is found

The most time spent is still with Delmair. Eventually the magic sword Dhauzimmer is gotten and the lich Malithra Undra faced during moonrise in Myth Drannor.

The story feels random, but this is not surprising or that odd considering this is Greenwood’s Elminster playing a large role. I actually really enjoyed the ending, the story was silly but heartfelt. It was overall a Good story and it'd be nice to have more.

 As to the year of the events, my guess is 1358 DR as the most likely year it occurs. Though this seems less likely with the way Mourngrym talks about being Lord of Shadowdale; he makes it sound like he’s been in the position for at least a few years; 1358 DR is his first year in this position though.  However, the game does take place in 1358 DR, and so I'm sticking with that. Another note is that the game seems to contradict the story a little. Delmair does not have his father’s sword in the game, and also in the game he killed  the bandits who slew his father, rather than Shalrin who did in the story.


You can track my current progress here.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Review: Kallinor's Charge by Mark Price & David Roomes

Kallinor's Charge is a piece of Tie-in fiction to the recent adventure Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus. It can be found for free in Dragon+ issue 28, which was published in October 2019. It is the last piece of fiction before Ice Out was released just last month; a sad reminder that sometimes we have to wait a whole year for more Realms fiction. Just like the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist tie-in fiction stories, Kallinor's Charge is also written by Mark Price and David Roomes.

Our protagnist is Captain Kiran of the Hellriders of Elturel. She and her two lieutenants Lyra and Mallor are sent to Darrow Estate from Candlekeep. Kallinor, an almost legendary, retired Hellrider, has something they believe can save Elturel, which has been taken completely into Avernus, the first layer of the Hells. This artifact is the staff Imminent Light. The trio does not understand the consequences of wielding the staff, though warned by Kallinor. They find out the hard way, witnessing the infernal curse.

Price and Roomes have shown they make a good writing duo, and I'd like to see a novel from them like we have seen from other Realms' duos in the past. The imagery is great, the emotions are described well, and the combat narrated smoothly.

An interesting ending, one I want to find out more about. Is Kiran in the adventure? Yet another I have not experienced for myself. This is Exceptional. The last paragraph is a lovely echo of the first, I really appreciated it when I noticed; it works well. 

"There she stood, poised at the threshold, poised in readiness."

You can track my current progress here.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Review: Waterdeep Dragon Heist Tie-In Fiction

There are two tie-in short stories for the adventure Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. These can both be found for free in Dragon+, and off course take place in the titular Waterdeep, the City of Splendors. 

Secrets of the Deep by Mark Price and David Roomes from issue Dragon+ issue 20 published in June 2018. Braya is a thief of the streets of Waterdeep. Her mentor, Tyben, is dead. Tyben knew about a treasure beneath the city though, and some toughs want to beat it out of Braya and his corpse. The story is extremely short, and comes to a swift close one it picks up.

We learn that Braya was taught a good philosophy from Tyben. He was oddly a worshipper of Umberlee, Queen of the Depths. Braya is quick on her feet like any rogue, and uses a knife to stunning effect.

I have not experienced Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, so maybe there are connections I’m missing. The tale is Acceptable, it's too short but wrapped together nicely. Coupled with the next story, it works as a good introduction.

Raven’s Reckoning is by the same two authors and also follows Braya as she searches for the Vault of Dragons. It can be found in Dragon+ issue 23 from December 2018. 

The 7th of Flamerule, Lliira's Night. The story starts as Braya negotiates a deal involving wine with the elf Sneer of House Amaris and the dwarf Scar of Clan Roardun. She is posing as a member of the Vintners, Distillers, Brewers Guild

She has a new partner, since Tyben’s death, Grudal has made the duo complete. He doesn't get really any screen time, and is almost pointless.

The scandal is going fine until two critical parts explode, and another party Braya recently got on the bad side of shows up. This become dicey fast, and it becomes a race as to who can get the prize of a certain key. A brawl breaks out and the Nine Hells break loose. 

An aside, Funnily where there probably is suppose to be a break it looks like the coding is off. Ignore the stuff in brackets! 

Anyways, Raven's Reckoning is a fun followup to Secrets of the Deep. It is not a conclusion, for that's for the players of the adventure to experience. The story is Good.

"Dry or sweet?"


You can track my current progress here.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Review: A Man & His Dog by Bart Carroll

A Man & His Dog is a piece of tie-in fiction for Storm Kings Thunder in issue 9 of Dragon+, which was published in September 2016. The tale is written by Bart Carroll, digital marketing manager for Wizards of the Coast. As always with the Dragon+ stories, they are free if you get the app on your phone.

The not-so-pretty look of a 5e Blink dog

Ranger for the Emerald Enclave, Gibbet, is in a small town north-east of Waterdeep, Beliard. The citizens are fleeing from a fire giant and his pack of hellhounds. Gibbet is specifically hunting giants, for one destroyed his hometown of Catherine's Crossing when he was just a boy. His dog, Blencan, is a blink dog, and also a survivor from an elven village waylaid by a fire giant.

This specific giant is going from small, basically defenseless villages, to pillage singular magic items to add to his armor. He seems to be making this armor so he can free the Primordial Maegera and withstand her intense heat.

There were some clever things in this story; we explore magical arrows, wearing heraldry devices, and how people can get ekenames. It's a personal story, our protagonist is quiet and gives off a sad vibe. There were a few surprises, though there was not much chance of seeing them coming; that is forgivable because of its short length. This is a fresh Realms take on a classic trope. A Man & His Dog is Good, for what it is.

I have not experienced Storm King's Thunder for myself, but those who have, let me know how you feel about this tie-in story in regards to the whole campaign.

You can track my current progress here.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Review: Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear Tie-In Fiction

Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear tie-in stories: Amulet Fellow & the Regal Rose; Den of Chaos; and Dangerous World. The first is from Dragon+ issue 5 of December 2015. The last two are from The Familiar issues 1 and 2 respectively, of February and April 2016. Siege of Dragonspear is an expansion for the video game Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition that takes place between the first and second game of the series, which was released in March 2016. It takes place in Realms year 1368 DR, Year of the Banner, and follows the crusade of the aasimar Caelar Argent against the denizens of the Nine Hells.

Cover featuring mosaic of Daeros Dragonspear and copper dragon Halatathlaer

The first story, Amulet Fellow & the Regal Rose (presently called Glint’s Story on my Dragon+ app), is by Andrew Foley.

Glint Gardnersonson
Glint Gardnersonson, narcissistic blue haired gnome is in the Elfsong Tavern with buddies Jargo and Penhale when we meet him. Amulet Fellow—surely not his real name—has lost an amulet that Glint had stolen. Glint agrees to retrieve the amulet so Amulet Fellow can trade it for his parents love letters from a Zhentarim agent.

A nice cameo of half-elven Lady Alyth as the proprietor of the famous Elfsong Tavern, it is the briefest of appearances but still appreciated. Glint discovers that the Regal Rose, a famous thief of the Sword Coast, has the amulet; she having used a trick to steal it right under his nose.

While the story is a great game of pickpocketry and chicanery, there isn't much to say beyond read it for yourself. It does manage to bring some surprises for such a short tale. I think you will enjoy it; it is Good.

Den of Chaos, also called Corwin’s Story, is by Amber Scott and can be found here. It is about chondathan, Schael Corwin, a member of the Flaming Fist, Baldur’s Gate mercenary policing force. It occurs entirely in the forest outside of Baldur’s Gate. Corwin and her partner, Zeri, are tracking bandits to recover some stolen mushrooms and other alchemical items for a Baldur's Gate noble.

Scott does a fantastic job descriptions and I was immersed very quickly, which made the story all the more enjoyable. It had character depth I find very little in short tales. I really enjoyed Corwin, and I'd like to see more of her. In the game she is a Captain, though in the story she has barely started her time with the Flaming Fist.

There are some intense moments at the end; what happened to Derrion was extreme and a little disturbing, but pulled good emotions from me. The story gives an array of feelings that I wasn’t ready for. It is Exceptional for a short story.

Dangerous World by Andrew Foley starts with a short section from the point of view of the hobgoblin Grathm. We are swiftly introduced to who he is hunting, our main character, the goblin M’khiin Grubdoubler.  She is sort of shaman, and rather clever compared to her compatriots that are trying to kill her for unknown reasons.

In a storm she hides in a cave and has an interesting, and sort of funny, conversation with an injured drow. She heals him a little and decides to help him out. In the end she doesn't seem to get much out of this, besides more knowledge of the wider world she lives in.

M’khiin outsmarts the goblins of her village tracking her to get two birds with one stone, causing a run-in with the adventuring party after the drow in very cunning fashion. It is very interesting to observe a battle from the outside, especially with a drow commentating. The fight is extremely well written.

A fast read, and an entertaining one. Those more familiar with the game certainly would get more out of it. Those familiar will also probably recognize the drow sorcerer as someone whose name starts with B- and ends with -aeloth. Overall, Dangerous World is Good. It can be found here.

Since the stories are not the same as a series I am not giving them an overall score grouped together. Seeing as I haven't played Siege of Dragonspear, I surely have missed some things. What happens to our characters? Let me know. I do plan on doing similar group reviews for like product tie-ins.

You can track my current progress here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Review: The Thweem by Adam Lee

 The Thweem is a short story "by Chris Perkins, written by Adam Lee", whatever that collaboration means. It can be found for free in Dragon+ issue 4, published October 2015. The short story is a tie-in to the Rage of Demons storyline. It is a short tale about a flumph named Freemo and its experience in the Underdark during the tumult of 1485-1486 DR.

A flumph

Flumph's are one of the only good species of the subterranean Realms; as the fifth edition Monster Manual states: "Trust a flumph". They speak telepathically together in their little cloisters, a look as shown above.

The tale itself revolves around thweem, as one could probably guess from the title. Thweem, known as Faerzress to the drow, is an odd sort of magical radiation only found in the Underdark. During the story the thweem becomes contaminated and infects Freemo, who becomes irritated and aggressive, or full of rage.

Following his infection he subsequently leaves his cloister of flumph (flumphs? flumphi?) and has an encounter with mind flayers and their undead Elder Brain. The story is really silly, uses a handful of juvenile insults, and I think most would find it appropriate for younger audiences. Like Ice Out, it is also written in first person, which may help younger audiences enjoy the story more. The most confusing part with the storytelling though is the lack of quotation marks. Most dialogue is inner monologue, and when the flumph communicate with each other it is telepathically, and no quotation marks are used, neither are the thoughts indicated otherwise, such as with italics. The only time quotation marks are present is for the brief moment humans are present and speak, and one time the Elder Brain says "what", which is probably a mistake; as far as I know they can't project a voice beyond psionic means.

Overall The Thweem is fun short story. For those who like Drizzt, you will receive a pleasant surprise of a cameo at the end of the story. I enjoyed my time reading the story, and it was fun being in Freemo's alien head. I think The Thweem is Good, and I'd encourage those fans of the darker parts of the Forgotten Realms to get a little taste of the Underdark in this tale.


You can track my current progress here.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Completed Series: The Erevis Cale Trilogy by Paul S. Kemp

 The Erevis Cale Trilogy by Paul S. Kemp is a follow up to "Resurrection" in The Halls of Stormweather and Shadow's Witness, books one and two of the Sembia series. It is the story of Erevis Cale, the Chosen of the shadow and thievery deity, Mask. He is joined by his friends, Jak the halfling rogue who serves Brandobaris, halfling god of thieves; and sometimes ally Riven, who is also a chosen of Mask; the tiefling psionicist Magadon joins later in the first book.

I read the entire trilogy from August to the beginning of November. It is full of thrilling twists, exciting action, and fantastic characters. It is a step up from the last series I finished, and I believe that the Legend of Erevis Cale will be to me better than that of a certain drow rangers. Beware of spoilers below.

Twilight Falling (2003) - Amazing

Dawn of Night (2004) - Good

Midnight's Mask (2005) - Exceptional

“Today is a new day”

Twilight Falling starts off in a fantastic blur of activity. Cale is where we left him at the end of the Sembia series. While Shadow's Witness is a true prequel to the Erevis Cale Trilogy, reading the last book in Sembia, Lord of Stormweather, really sets up the scene at the start (while Cale is not the main character there are multiple parts from his POV). Times are changing, as the blurb on the back states: "The day's end finds Erevis Cale serving a new master". The intrigue is deep and there is only one man for the job: Erevis Cale. The story starts strong and doesn't slow; the first pages in-and-of-themselves tout gods, madmen, assassins, and demons, so you know it will be exciting. 

The main villain is Vraggen, a worshipper of the evil goddess, Shar. He is seeking one of her temples, the Fane of Shadows to transcend his humanity. He is aided by a gang of minions, who have secret purposes of their own. You slowly find out that Vraggen is ignorant that he is a pawn of a certain gith: the Sojourner.

Cale is resolved to leave Stormweather and the service of House Uskevren but that proves hard when a band of fanatics endanger the residents of Stormweather in their schemes to find the Fane of Shadows. These fanatics turn out to be Vraggen's shape-changing buddies, slaadi.

There is a lot that happens here. Including a trip across the sea to Starmantle. We even learn that, on page 109, that there are intact dung sweepers in Selgaunt and that they are not only in Waterdeep!

Funnily the whole story involving Cale and Riven was by Vraggen’s miscalculation, thinking they were already involved somehow and trying to push them out of the picture. He even realizes this fault but the error is still his doom of course. This shows the consequences for most of the series.

Overall we receive a great cast of characters: Cale, Riven, and Jak as well as Vraggen, Dalgor, Azriim, and Sephris. This is a fantastic novel, one any fantasy fan, Dungeons & Dragons or Forgotten Realms fans should read. From start to finish it is an exhilarating ride. In short, it is amazing.

It does end on a hefty cliffhanger, I believe it’s well deserved, but beware.

Dawn of Night continues right where the cliffhanger left us in Twilight Falling (though the prologue is a little removed, but gives us a good view of the antagonist, the Sojourner). To contrast, Dawn of Night is not quite as exciting as the first of the series. The party find themselves in the Plane of Shadow for a good chunk of the book while Cale figures out his predicament he is thrown into at the tail of the first book. It is drab, and a little taxing. For those who found the Abyss interesting in Shadow’s Witness you will probably enjoy the time spent in the Plane of Shadow in Dawn of Night. I surely enjoyed the time in the Material Plane more, particularly the time spent in Skullport.

One thing the reader will probably note is Cale's use of big words, generally in his thoughts. He is a linguist, he knows nine languages. This adds a fun twist to the already deadly and intelligent assassin.

About 2/3 mark, we meet Varra, and I really enjoy the connection of a random person from the start, though sadly she is a victim of a wretch when she is introduced. We don't see much of her, but I feel she will be important, and a sort of replacement for Cale's feelings for Tazi.

It’s interested to see Cale adapt to his new predicament. It’s quaint that the Sojourner just wants to stand under the Sun, and this can symbolically be related to Cale's willingness to do so even though it pains him after the events of Twilight Falling. The Sojourner doesn’t have any problem doing bad things because he believes there are no consequences and set path of the universe. Everything is random, and allows those who are able to do what they want, to do what they want. He doesn’t believe in morals, but he believes in math.

Dawn of Night ends on a cliffhanger, though one that feels less intense and not as immense as that of the first book.

“Cale and Riven might be separated by only a blade’s edge, but that edge was keen and clear. Cale showed mercy. Riven did not."

Midnight’s Mask starts off better than Dawn of Night. There are some interesting twists and good action from the get-go. It becomes apparent to our would-be-heroes that the Sojourner is powerful, maybe even more so than the likes of an archmage such as Elminster of Shadowdale.

If you like Netherese ruins, and sea going adventures; a tiefling companion that isn't the generic blood of Asmodeus kind; an sea-going adventure, that is what this book brings. It is emotional, and there are some great twists, at the start to the end. I actually got teary-eyed at the end of this ones, for reasons I won't spoil here, but the sentiment is summed up by a phrase from Jak Fleet:

“If we get the chance, let’s be heroes.”

There are some parts where it becomes apparent that the slaadi’s arrogance really are going to be their downfall. It's also interesting that the Sojourner does evil things for personal gain, to walk on the surface. He does not try to conquer the world or anything. The fact that Cale and Friends don’t know what The Sojourner wants and what he is doing to get it is intriguing. While the reader has an idea of Vhostym’s desire, the means are slowly revealed to be world shaking, but petty. It's interesting to think of what could have been avoided.

Ssessimyth is an interesting addition in the last book he makes certain parts dealing with Sakkors, an ancient netherese city, more fun. His relationship with a certain mythallar may pop up again in the future; maybe concerning a certain Shadovar in the next trilogy involving our titular character.

Over all, The Erevis Cale Trilogy is exciting and action-packed. I appreciate the Realms talk, appropriately in-world language helps with immersion. The world around the Sea of Fallen Stars is unveiled a bit-by-bit to show the reader more and more of the great, massive Forgotten Realms. This starts off exceptionally well, and though it slows down a little, it overall is a rewarding ride. The Erevis Cale Trilogy is Exceptional. 

This trilogy is followed by another, The Twilight War. I plan to in due time to explore the rest of Cale's story, from The Godborn to the short stories in Dragon magazine. As of now, he stands as one of my singular favorite Realms characters; who is yours?


You can track my current progress here.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Review: The Winter King by Chris Avellone

In similar fashion as my last review, The Winter King is a short story from Chris Avellone found in Dragon+ issue 2, published in June 2015. This one also takes place in Icewind Dale, so for all of the northern tundra lovers, this is another story you may want to check out; it is available for free on the Dragon+ app. Chris Avellone apparently wrote this story as he was working on the Icewind Dale games about two decades ago.

The Winter King is about an older dwarf of the Sunset Mountains named Tiernon. He is on a quest to forge his greatest work, that all dwarven smiths get later in life. The most familiar would likely be Bruenor Battlehammer's forging of Aegis-fang in The Crystal Shard. For some reason Tiernon feels drawn to the Gloomfrost Glacier of Icewind Dale. He journeys out alone with a chest of his belongings strapped to his back. He also has a handy pair of pickaxes that can freeze or melt ice on command; I may steal this idea for my own Dungeons & Dragons games.

The story itself is simple. Tiernon faces a creature, and he has to psych himself up to do so alone. That is really all the story; one of loneliness. For those who enjoy solo adventures, maybe you will enjoy this. It is eerily quiet, the only dialogue is the once or twice Tiernon speaks to himself, and the one flashback when he was camping with some Reghedmen barbarians.

There is also a scene when feats are listed in association with a previous items old Tiernon crafted. These scenes mention things otherwise unmentioned in Realms Lore. We have Aengys Soothhammer and his fortress; the Many-toothed Maul; the Nine Beards of Clan Hearthstone; Singing Blade of Aihonen; Ored's Wood; and of course the eponymous Winter King. These are cool names and all, but I doubt we will ever get more details beyond this short story.

This is for lovers of Icewind Dale. Beyond learning a small tale of the relentless place, there is not much here. We don't learn overmuch about Tiernon, before or after his exploits. Surely this is in large part because it is a short story, but while not a lot of bad, there isn’t much good. The Winter King is Acceptable.


You can track my current progress here.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Comparing Salvatore's Streams of Silver with Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit

Epic fantasy in our modern age is one of the most popular genres and we can largely credit John Ronald Reuel Tolkien with bringing the appropriate literary pieces together in his magnum opus, The Lord of the Rings, essentially creating the genre in a form recognizable to us today. Since its release in the 1950s geekdom has never been the same. Couple this with Dungeons & Dragons, with initial versions coming about in the 1970s, both have become cultural phenomena. It won't surprise anyone familiar with both, that the base of D&D is inspired in part from Tolkien's works. This leaks over to similar stories as well. Today I want to specifically compare R.A. Salvatore's Streams of Silver with J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Tolkien's magnum opus
Original cover for Streams of Silver

There are quite a few comparisons that can be made beyond the obvious both involving fantastical elements such as a fantasy world and fairy creatures. All three works involve groups of warriors on an ultimate quest against evil; and in the case of Streams of Silver and The Hobbit, to reclaim a lost homeland. Specifically these homelands are dwarven and were lost about a century in the past to dragons. 

The Companions of the Hall, the party in Streams of Silver, is made up of Bruenor Battlehammer, heir to Clan Battlehammer; Drizzt Do'Urden, outcast dark elf living on the surface; Wulfgar, barbarian of the northern tundra of Icewind Dale and adopted son of Bruenor; Regis, reluctant halfling friend; and Cattie-Brie, warrior and adopted human daughter of Bruenor.

The Companions of the Hall

Thorin and Company of The Hobbit is comprised of twelve dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield, leader of Durin's Folk; Bilbo Baggins, a burglar hobbit (same as a halfling) of the Shire; and Gandalf the wizard.

The Fellowship of the Ring, or Nine Walkers of The Lord of the Rings (volume 1 being the only part the fellowship isn't broken and scattered) is comprised of Gandalf the wizard; Aragorn, ranger and heir to Gondor and Arnor; Boromir, general and son of the Steward in Minas Tirith; Legolas, son of Thranduil of Mirkwood; Gimli, son of Gloin from Thorin's Company; Frodo, the hobbit ring-bearer; and Sam, Merry, and Pippin as Frodo's retainers.

The Hobbit is a fairy-tale for children. Streams of Silver, while somewhat juvenile, is not meant for children but would probably be appropriate for adolescences. It is also the second book in the Icewind Dale trilogy, and so the party is already established. The Lord of the Rings is an adult book, but clean enough for any age if they can understand the somewhat archaic prose. The Fellowship is established halfway through the first volume, and it's "breaking" happens at the end of the same volume. The Companions of the Hall is the only party of the three going beyond their respective work; both of Tolkien's don't last.

Thorin and Company

To start with The Hobbit and Streams of Silver, both tales involved homelands lost to a dragon. Erebor and Mithral Hall are ancient dwarven kingdoms. Erebor stands in the bowels of the Lonely Mountain, while Mithral Hall, the home of Clan Battlehammer, is beneath Fourthpeak in the Frost Hills. Erebor is taken by Smaug, a fire drake from the Withered Heath. Mithral Hall is conquered by Haerinvureem, better known as Shimmergloom, whom is a shadow dragon. Shimmergloom sleeps most days and is attended on by many minions, duergar to be specific. Smaug sleeps most of the time but does not have any minions.

You may have already noticed how reminiscent Durin’s Bane in Moria is of Shimmergloom. Shimmergloom was disturbed from his place in the Underdark when the the dwarves of Clan Battlehammer delved too deep, the same thing occurred when Durin’s Folk disturbed Durin's Bane in the deep of Khazad-dûm. Durin's Bane is the only known surviving balrog (a demon of sorts) to have served Morgoth. Likewise Shimmergloom was also the lone survivor of Clan Jaezred. Both are also creatures of shadow and fire and cohabitate their homes with lesser beings. They are the enemies of the party. The balrog spells apparent doom for Gandalf, while Shimmergloom spells apparent doom for Bruenor. Bruenor's supposed death is comparable to both Thorin and Gandalf. Thorin is the leader of a clan of dwarves known as the Longbeards, or Durin's Folk. He leads the quest to reclaim his homeland, just as Bruenor. Thorin dies defending it from an army of goblins and other creatures, and along with his kin Fili and Kili, his nephews, are the only members of the party to perish. Contrast this with Gandalf who does indeed fall with the balrog when his leg is caught by the its whip. He kills the balrog and dies, but as many know he later comes back reborn. Both of these are echoed in Bruenor's fall. He is the heir and falls with the dragon, dealing the death blow to the creature in the process. He is thought lost but survives the flames by magical means, and later rejoins his companions.

In the case of Erebor and Mithral Hall, both have secret entrances and Moria’s door is somewhat secret as well. No one alive has been to Moria but it doesn’t feel mysterious as much as it feels suspenseful and severely dangerous: Moria is not a place to habitat. A couple of Thorin’s company had been to Erebor before Smaug conquered it. Though Bruenor lived his youth in Mithral Hall, he only has vague memories of it and they act as keys to a mystery, something not present in Tolkien’s work; the esoteric ways of Durin’s Door and West Gate of Moria kind of fall into their lap from the deus ex machina Gandalf (and Elrond/Frodo). 

After Erebor is reclaimed, dwarven kin from the Iron Hills come to aid in its rebuilding and protection. Likewise do the dwarves from Citadel Adbar help Bruenor in Mithral Hall.

Other quick notes: I will point out that both Tolkien parties are missing a female, Cattie-Brie plays her part of the story well, and is a strong character. Another thing is in Streams of Silver, Artemis Entreri is hunting the party, or specifically Regis, while nothing pursues Thorin’s Company, but the emissaries of Sauron pursue the Fellowship.

Tolkien's illustration of Smaug

Now let us get to comparing characters; Bruenor is both Thorin and Gimli, and Aragorn. He is the heir like Thorin, but he is Bruenor, in the sense that he is not in charge of the group, everyone is equal. Gimli in the fellowship is not the leader either, but is knowledgeable of Moria like Bruenor is of Mithral Hall. Similarly to Thorin, Aragorn is an uncrowned king and is confident in taking his destined place with a crown on his head.

Drizzt can act as Legolas in reflexes and elven blood. I believe he is more akin to Bilbo in being an outsider. Bilbo is not from the heroic world, he is ignorant and unenlightened and cares only for the comforts of his rather modern home. Drizzt is not from the surface world, that under the sun, and is an outsider from people that would describe themselves as civil and good. He is persecuted by those outside his companions for his skin color which marks him as such. Bilbo is ridiculed by those of the Company for his culture.

Regis is also comparable to Bilbo, but more so to Frodo; a captive of his own destiny and dragged along on weary feet. Frodo does his duty, and is a hero, but he could not stay in the comfort of his home. Likewise Regis is chased by Artemis Entreri, the assassin, for the magical pendant he has, itself a piece of jewelry comparable to Frodo's possession of the One Ring.

Wulfgar is a tougher character to place. If anyone from Rohan had been with either of Tolkien’s parties, then he might be an echo; Rohan being derived from horse riding Anglo-Saxons, and Wulfgar perhaps coming from the homonymous Wulfgar in Beowulf of Germanic legend. In the end Wulfgar may fit with any stubborn comrade of the Tolkien groups, though likely he is based off of the non-Tolkien Conan the Barbarian.

Durin's Bane by Ted Nasmith
One character is the un-analogous Cattie-Brie. It is a known fact that Tolkien has important female characters, but not as main characters. While Cattie-Brie is of sort in a duo with Wulfgar, it is not in a submissive way. At times Cattie-Brie seems the most effective of the companions because of her skill with the magical bow, Taumaril. At that, for utility, she could be compared to Legolas.
The 5e look of a shadow dragon

So we can see that there are many similarities, and a few from other books I didn't mention; such as Cryshal Tirith meaning "Crytal Tower" from the first book of Salvatore's Icewind Dale trilogy. This is something obviously inspired by Minas Tirith "Tower of Guard", though Tirith in the latter means "guard", and Minas "tower". Some people try to hide from Tolkien influence, he has left a long shadow over the fantasy genre and it can be tough to make your own light. I believe R.A. Salvatore decided to wear that inspiration on his sleeve and it is evident in the exemplum of Streams of Silver which strongly shows Tolkien influence. What we have are three great quests with three great foes, and luckily we get to enjoy them all. 

To see my thoughts on the Icewind Dale trilogy, look here. Are there any similarities you spot that I didn't point out?

Lastly (and best) we can actually compare poems, something most modern fantasy can't, sadly. I will let you locate the differences as you enjoy them. I think I can leave it unsaid whom is the better poet. Here are the first two verses of each:

Mithral Hall Song from Streams of Silver by R.A. Salvatore

“We've dug our holes and hallowed caves

Put goblin foes in shallow graves

This day our work is just begun

In the mines where silver rivers run

Beneath the stone the metal gleams

Torches shine on silver streams

Beyond the eyes of the spying sun

In the mines where silver rivers run

"Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold" from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Far over the misty mountains cold

To dungeons deep and caverns old

We must away ere break of day

To seek the pale enchanted gold.

The dwarves of yore made mighty spells,

While hammers fell like ringing bells

In places deep, where dark things sleep,

In hollow halls beneath the fells.


You can track my current progress here.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Review: Ice Out by Greg Tito

 For those of you who are unaware, Dragon+ is a bimonthly e-magazine started in 2015 that replaced Dragon and Dungeon magazines after they went out of print in 2013. In the recently released issue 34 there are a host of Icewind Dale related goodies --even a solo adventure-- but of course my favorite is the Forgotten Realms fiction morsel of Ice Out by Greg Tito. Remember that Dragon+ is free, so go ahead and give this a read if you wish. 

The "cover" art for Ice Out

The story follows gnome Darma Fizzlebottom. The first thing I noted is that the story is written in first person. A couple sentences near the start are in third person, which was a tad confusing, but since most tales in the Realms are told in third person, first felt a little odd but after a couple paragraphs it was fine. It could easily work as a journal entry, memoir, or report.

Our adventurous, waterdhavian gnome naively braves the tundra from Bryn Shander. On here escapade we are introduced to nine cast members to set up a classic whodunit mystery (the worthy priest of Lady Luck was my favorite). Darma is an investigator by trade and seems to have an uncanny knack for reading people.

The story relies on the swift thinking Darma and is peppered with gnomish humor. multiple "swear[s] to Garl” are mentioned. This works as a euphemism but fits the lore of the Realms; Garl Glittergold is a gnome deity with the domains of luck, trickery, and protection. Also Elminster's Razor was an ingenious homage to Occam's Razor.

Overall it is a short read, and I rate it as Good. It ends well and I think we could get another tale about Darma. I loved the surprise of Fluffy and Orilothal at the end, as well.I believe fans mysteries in the Realms would enjoy this little hearthfire tale; check out my review of Spellstorm for another mystery. I also think this shows a good median for given fans fiction, since it has been rather short for years. Maybe with more stories like this, we can slowly expand the library of Realm's works, and mayhap get some more novels beyond Drizzt sooner rather than later.

You can track my current progress here.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Completed Series: The Legacy of the Drow by R.A. Salvatore

 The Legacy of the Drow is a four book series by author RA Salvatore. It is the third series comprising the Legend of Drizzt, and as such follows the adventures of The Companions of the Hall: Drizzt, Bruenor, Wulfgar, Cattie-Brie, Regis, and Guenhwyvar. Focusing in large part on Drizzt Do'Urden and his origins in the dark elf city of Menzoberranzan fans of the Dark Elf Trilogy would enjoy the mechanizations of the chaotic and evil drow society.

This is the last of the series that I had already started before starting on my quest to read every novel in the Forgotten Realms. I read the first book in March of 2019, and the follow up with the second a few months later. In April of this year I read the third book (review here), and I finished the fourth and last book in August.

the modern covers

The Legacy (1992) - Acceptable

Starless Night (1993) - Acceptable

Siege of Darkness (1994) - Good

Passage to Dawn (1996) - Mediocre

The Legacy of the Drow (TLD) is a conundrum for me. If you have read my previous reviews of Salvatore's Drizzt books you will know I generally find them overrated and often a little infuriating. Salvatore writes fight-scenes well, but his characters and plots are nothing praiseworthy. Overall TLD is a decent foray into the fun ride that can be the Forgotten Realms, it is not where I would start though, nor where I would end.

I readily admit it has been some time since I read the first two books in this series so I ask you take my opinions with a grain of salt for those two. I will try to keep the them as simple as possible.

The Legacy is okay. It is a story of Drizzt's past coming back to haunt him, for the evil worshippers of Lolth are not yet down with him. He is taken to Menzoberranzan. Wulfgar acts unlike himself in this book, his character arc being a little odd. Entreri is one of the most dull villains ever and I'm waiting for the day that Salvatore actually kills him, because it should have happened back in The Hafling's Gem.

Starless Night is basically the same as The Legacy. The Companions go back to Menzoberranzan. Entreri still is not dead.

Siege of Darkness was ironically the highlight of TLD. It focuses on greater cosmology of the Forgotten Realms with the Time of Troubles. The fated assault on Mithral Hall finally comes to pass and it has plenty of interesting combat. Interesting events happen in this book that I enjoyed reading. Overall it is a good book. Again, here is a more complete review.

Passage to Dawn is an odd book. I have a large amount to say since I just finished it at the time of this writing. The book starts off tremendously entertaining. Cattie-Brie and Drizzt are really the main focuses to begin with. This book does not involve the Drow at all, for which I am grateful. It is more of a proper sequel to Errtu's hatred of Drizzt and a proper sequel to The Crystal Shard. It is the first book to take place partially in Icewind Dale since The Crystal Shard (ironically the only book in The Icewind Dale Trilogy to take place in the Dale) and so deals with Crenshinibon, the Crystal Shard.

The beginning of the story is of adventures with Captain Deudermont of Waterdeep on his ship, the Sea Sprite. It is fun and exciting. The general endless fighting of Drizzt books is noticeably and pleasantly absent from the first half. 

Moving on the book changes and I will now get into more spoilers.

The companions eventually reunite in Icewind Dale. A seer on the mystical island of Caerwich tells a riddle of one held captive, someone important to both Drizzt and Cattie-Brie. The prologue of the book shows that Errtu has someone, but it does not reveal who. It was insanely obvious to me that this was Wulfgar. It makes sense, that is someone who was killed by a demon and is important to both Cattie-Brie and Drizzt. But no, Salvatore is so bad at subtlety and he makes the characters think it is Zaknafein; which does not make much sense if this prisoner is suppose to be relatable to Cattie-Brie. The entire book Wulfgar is hardly mentioned, and never as a potential prisoner of Errtu when it is obvious from page 1. 

At about the half-way point, I was thinking Salvatore was trying to come full circle with The Crystal Shard and the Companions of the Hall; his original story. Wulfgar is returned (though with the most lackluster reunion I have ever read, he doesn't even say anything for pages and when he does speak it is a smattering of a couple lines), and Crenshinibon is well in hand. I was hoping this would be end of the story for the Crystal Shard so I could study up on The D&D Next adventure The Legacy of the Crystal Shard before the release of Rime of the Frostmaiden in September. Sadly it is not so.

Salvatore shows great immaturities as a writer, the first half is littered with sentences ending in exclamation marks that sound like the author himself and not the characters. These could and should have been caught by an editor. Cryshal-Tirith, present in previous books, is supposedly the elvish word for "Crystal Tower". Considering the t in crystal was just changed to an h and Tirith was pulled from Tolkien's Minas Tirith, it seems rather juvenile. Also Khazid'hea's sentience seems mostly forgotten, with a few lines thrown in near the end. And apparently Salvatore forgot that Drizzt's scimitar is called Icingdeath (the companion to Twinkle). Salvatore also insists on repeating silly statements like "Creatures venturing out onto the open plain of Icewind Dale who were not careful did not survive for long." with little change.

Overall Passage to Dawn is a long road of going down and maybe should be called Passage Down instead. Thank Tymora Entreri does not appear in the book.

The Legacy of the Drow has it's ups and it's downs. The series does finish on a solid endnote, and I feel anyone could be satisfied finishing Drizzt's story here. Salvatore shows that he can consistently write Dungeons & Dragons novels but the quality is questionable. Sadly the series has more low points than high ones, and though I am surely biased and mayhap even ranting I would say that the series is Acceptable.

From here on out the reviews should be more balanced with each book getting equal representation. 


You can track my current progress here.