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Thursday, July 30, 2020

Review: The Great Hunt by Elaine Cunningham

While I am currently reading trying to finish the last books in the series' I had already started when I made a commitment to read every Forgotten Realms novel I thought I would give you this short review of a short story from Elaine Cunningham. At the time of this writing I have only read her novel EverQuest: The Blood Red Harp. Since the tale is so short my summary will have spoilers.
Cover art by Michael Sutfin

The Great Hunt is located from pages 62-68 in the April 1998 issue. It follows primarily a half-orc youth named Drom somewhere in The North. He and his two companions are Talons of Malar. These servants of the Beastlord had massacred the citizens of an elven village and are now hunting the two survivors.

We learn that these elves are actually the half-elf Arilyn Moonblade and the Moon elf Elaith Craulnober. These are both characters from Cunningham's Song & Swords series which I have not yet gotten too. Arilyn who is injured can not outrun the hunting party, and so they devise a plan to best their adversaries. The build a cairn and make it seem that Arilyn has bled out and was buried and that Elaith continued on alone.

A mysterious wolf seems to confirm this for Talons of Malar by digging into the cairn and eating something so its face comes away bloody. They are then surprised when they meat Arilyn alone in a field later on. Arilyn fights briefly with Drom's companions, Badger and Grimlish, dispatching both, with the aid of a thrown knife from Elaith who was the mysterious snowy wolf. They had buried a doe in the cairn, successfully tricking the hunters. Outsmarted, Drom is at their mercy and Elaith maims him, though Arilyn leaves a suture kit so Drom can sew himself up.

Story art by Stephen Schwartz

The story ends with Drom deciding to change, as he howls to the Snow Wolf, seemingly turning his back on Malar and returning to the spirit he worshipped since his childhood.

Since it is such a short story I am not leaving a rating, but I will say that I find fiction like this very much to my liking. I only have a few copies of Dragon magazine issues but I love finding stories from fiction and adventures in them, especially about the Forgotten Realms. For those that don't know, Ed Greenwood (the creator of the Forgotten Realms) started putting tidbits about the Forgotten Realms in Dragon back in 1979. In 1986 when TSR was looking for any setting to expand into beyond Greyhawk with Gary Gygax's departure in '85, everything about The Realms in Dragon were retroactively made canon before the release of the first official supplement, the Grey Box, in 1987. An example would be the reference to deities from the Forgotten Realms in June of '86's issue #110 adventure "The House in the Frozen Lands" by James Adams.

Have you read any good fiction or ran any adventures from the old magazines? If so let me know, I'd love to experience them for myself.

You can track my current progress here.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Review: Ravenloft - Vampire of the Mists

Vampire of the Mists is the first Ravenloft novel, but one with connections to the Forgotten Realms, hence why it is here. It was released in 1991 and is written by Christie Golden. The story is of a Gold Elf turned vampire, Jander Sunstar. Some of you may recognize this name if you have played a certain recent adventure for Fifth Edition. I decided to do this bonus review since I was itching for some gothic horror, and Vampire of the Mists did not disappoint. It took me only a few days to finish. This review will be rather spoiler heavy.
Image result for vampire of the mists

The prologue takes place either before the von Zarovich’s rule, or right at its start. Noticeably this Most High Priest of Barovia does not worship the Morninglord Lathander.
1072 DR Jander meets Anna at an insane asylum in Waterdeep. He continues to visit her every night for several decades until her death.
The Village of Barovia, overseen by Burgomaster Boris Federovich Kartov, is the scene Jander enters seeking his revenge. Strahd’s wolves terrorize the villagers. Though this is combated by Janders own power over wolves, he can even take the form of one, apparently a vampiric trait.

We encounter Maruschka, who has the sight, and is basically younger Madame Eva, though she is present as well. Her brother is Petya, who Jander saves early on from the Burgomasters intended hanging though he’s innocent. He was messing around with his daughter, Anastasia.

At this point Jander has been undead for 5 centuries while apparently Strahd is “barely past [his] first”. 
Melancholy is always present for the once happy creature turned into an evil and tormented vampire. Jander is extremely easy to pity, especially near the end when you know more of his background.

Jander is in Barovia for about 25 years. It’s during this time that the only survivor of a group of travelers from Toril, a boy named Martyn Pelkar, starts a church of Lathander in the Village of Barovia. He thinks Jander is the Morninglord because of his gold skin and because he stopped Strahd and his servants from killing him. I would not be surprised if this is where the worship of Lathander gets introduced into Barovia.

See the source image
The original Ravenloft module.

Throughout the story we learn a little of Janders past. That he was slave to the vampire that turned him, that he was part of adventuring group called the Silver Six apparently slayed a dragon in Merrydale(the old name of Daggerdale). A vampire started making spawn of the towns people and his party, during which scores of people are lost and they even ironically split the party. Before forming the Silver Six, Gideon and Jander were even Hellriders, which is something that may sound familiar if you've played Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus.

“Cults come and go. Lathander will die with his cleric. You, Count Strahd, are certain to outlast any daylight deity.”

This book's main enemy is Strahd, and Golden displays his madness beautifully. He is truly a maniac, and some of the later chapters are from his point of view. His tragic love and torture of Tatyana, and his plotting to always have her. Honestly there was one thing with Katrina, one of Strahd's pets, that actually fooled me, and I was shocked I did not see it coming beforehand.

The 5e retelling of the original adventure of Ravenloft.

This is a must read novel in my opinion for fans of Curse of Strahd, I6 Ravenloft, or even 3e's Expedition to Castle Ravenloft.

Heavy spoilers: we learn that Jander’s love, Anna, was a fragmented piece of Tatyana’s soul. That piece lived on while Tatyana died, and her reincarnated being Marina was missing that piece, as well as Olya who died simultaneously with Anna. Tatyana died in 351 (Barovia calendar), while Ireena Kolyana is Tatyana reincarnated during Curse of Strahd/i6 Ravenloft in 735. Apparently another reincarnation of her is Queen Kristiana von Zarovich in the Prime Material version of Barovia (from Roots of Evil adventure which takes place in 740 BC).
This is a little confusing, because if everything matches up then when Curse of Strahd takes place it would be 1354 DR, which would probably fit for I6 Ravenloft but is hard to place for 5e, unless things repeated more precisely than normal in the 1480s/1490s DR.

Another oddity is Madame Eva is dead by the end of the book. Supposedly she is the half-sister of Strahd so she is probably reincarnated also because of his curse.

The beautiful, assumed death of Jander at the end is sadly not so. I cannot believe for a second that Golden had Jander doing anything else but dying, for he was denying Strahd and the Dark Powers; but he was in Barovia where the powers (Wizards of the Coast) have ultimate power, sadly. Jander apparently later rejoined the Hellriders and invaded Avernus with Zariel. He's a tortured soul you can encounter in Baldur's Gate: Descent Into Avernus, and this makes him easily the most pitiable character I have encounted from Dungeons & Dragons. I beg any of you, please do what you can to free his soul if you play DIA.

End Spoilers

The main character Jander Sunstar is a tragic and ironic character. By being a vampire he is denied his name, the Sun, and the joy of basking in it as a gold elf. He keeps some of his old alignment, and refrains from his chaotic, vampiric nature for the most part. He is a character unlike most in all the novels I have read for Dungeons & Dragons, and his story is heartbreaking, redemptive, horrific, and triumphant. Vampire of the Mists is easily Amazing.

You can track my current progress here.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Completed Series: Lost Empires

Lost Empires is a series of four standalone novels set in the Forgotten Realms. There is no overlap with the books like there is in Sembia, these novels are truly standalone united by a common theme of some remnant of a lost or legendary locale.

I started with the first book in early March before getting to the fourth at the very end of April. I did not finish until mid July.

Forgotten Realms: Lost Empires series

The Lost Library of Cormanthyr by Mel Odom (1998) - Acceptable
Faces of Deception by Troy Denning (1998) - Bad
Star of Cursrah by Clayton Emery (1999) - Good
The Nether Scroll by Lynn Abbey (2000) - Mediocre

Overall I did enjoy Lost Empires. I have always been fascinated with history and each story has world building associated heavily with the past.

The Lost Library of Cormanthyr was fun, quick and easy. While the main character, Baylee, never has a problem (he is a typical Mary Sue) he is still enjoyable to read about. There are so many places visited, LLoC acts as a tour through the Realms of sorts. We see Cormyr, Waterdeep, Candlekeep, the Dalelands, Cormanthor, the Moonshaes and even the bottom of the ocean.

It is basically Indiana Jones in the Forgotten Realms. I may bring my party to Selarrnym someday to potentially rediscover some of what was left behind by the ancient elves.

Faces of Deception is easily the most disappointing book I have read in my quest to read every Forgotten Realms novel so far. It's not the writing, I have read a handful of books by Troy Denning and is writing is easy to digest. The story goes somewhere, but it was honestly surprising that it did. Sadly it has the biggest non-ending I've ever read. It's not a cliffhanger, it's an impenetrable wall. The characters don't progress, and the story is left dangling with no wrap up. It was so interesting at times, the traveling and countries of the Far East of Faerûn. Promising, but fails.

Star of Cursrah is the shining point of Lost Empires. It is a dual story, something I have never actually read before. The are a group of three friends in 1369 DR and another three in -6048 DR. The one in the past tells the fate of the ancient desert city while the group of friends rediscover it's location and story. Don't be deceived by the cover, it doesn't depict anything from the story really. The biggest fault in the story are the characters themselves, they are all unintelligent, with one exception. This is not too surprising as they are all kids, but it is a little annoying at times. Overall it is a fun tromp.

The Nether Scroll took my three months to finish. For those looking for a story driven Forgotten Realms novel, this is it. The only problem is that the plot suffers. Oddly Forgotten Realms novels are almost always about 300 pages long. If this story had been longer I feel it would have been way better. It took me until about page 120 for me to feel invested in the story, and it's never taken me that long for such a short book. 

It is somewhat redeemed by the interesting character dynamics including a young man with bad habits, a tough wizard, a nicely dressed goblin, and a fierce warrior woman. The ending was also a nice, not-cliffhanger.

The verdict for Lost Empires is you should read what sounds interesting to you since it is such a diverse set of books. Hopefully my review helps those interested in more than Drizzt and Erevis Cale find something for them. Overall I would say Lose Empires is Acceptable. Feel free to leave me your comments and questions.

You can track my current progress here.