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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Review: Venom in Her Veins by Tim Pratt

 Venom in Her Veins is a standalone novel from early 2012. It is written by Tim Pratt and is the only work of his set in the Forgotten Realms. As a novel from the Fourth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, it takes place after the Spellplague and before the Second Sundering, meaning the world is not as it is in most other novels. Though it doesn't state what year the book takes place, most 4e books and supplements are set in 1479 DR.

In this case, we are introduced to a small clan of Yuan-ti in Southern Lluirwood on the border of Dambrath and Luiren, though at this point Luiren is under water and the closest city is Elzimmer, presently a coastal city. The first few chapters we follow a couple non-human viewpoints; specifically a yuan-ti abomination (mostly snake with a few humanoid features) priest of Zehir, and a caravan guard dragonborn. They are both involved with an infant yuan-ti pureblood (yuan-ti that looks very humanlike), Zaltys, our main character.

Fast forward and that infant is now almost seventeen: Zaltys stands out among humans because she has a small patch of scales, has bright green eyes (even as a baby) and is lacking a navel (since she was born from an egg). She is also the adopted daughter of Alaia Serrat, a member of the family who controls to the terazul plant which is used to make a powdery, potent drug.

Zaltys, a merchant princess and is Alaia's heir, will some day become the leader of the Travelers, one of the three branches that make the merchant family; the other two being Traders and Guardians. Among the caravan are notable employees: the dragonborn guard Krailash; the eladrin wizard Quelamia; and the Tiefling psionicist Glory. Zalty's cousin, Julen is also an important character in the story.

This tale includes facing derro in the Underdark, and battling denizens of the Far Realm. There is even mention made of the Living Gate. The Slime Clan is entertaining and even have a couple of surprises up their sleeves, for our characters and the reader. If you enjoy the debate of “evil” races being evil inherently vs upbringing, this has some good philosophy that gives thinking points for the non-argument. And of course, yuan-ti fans should read this.

The focus on family, a younger protagonist, and the Shining South makes this a fun coming-of-age novel that I would recommend in general. It's been a nice step up from the last several Realms novels I have read. Venom in Her Veins is Exceptional.


You can track my current progress here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Comic Review: The Hand of Vaprak! - Issues #1-4 of the Forgotten Realms Comic

 While I am on a quest to read all novels, anthologies, and separate short stories set in the Forgotten Realms, I am not much of a comic book person. The last time I read one I was in elementary school. I was interested in a few of the series set in the Forgotten Realms however, and I will review some of the story arcs here to go with my normal reviews. I will not be giving a rating for the whole arc, since I'm too unused to comics. This will be full of spoilers as I feel the continuity between each issue makes sense with more detail.

Issues one though four of the Forgotten Realms Comic were published by DC Comics from August to November 1989. These first four issues are the first story arc for the series: The Hand of Vaprak! The story is by Jeff Grubb and the illustrations by Rags Morales. I was mostly interested because Grubb was in charge of the Forgotten Realms at TSR at the time, and wrote (along with his wife) the books in The Finder's Stone trilogy, and some of those characters from the books actually appear in the comics.

The Ogre's Paw is the fist volume for the comic series, and the first issue for The Hand of Vaprak! We meet Priam Agrivar a paladin and recovering drunk on the Sword Coast. In an odd turn of a swimming session he finds a satchel with some money from Lantan and a giant hand with evil, magical properties.

Then to the Halruaan ship, the Realms Master, captained by Dwalimar Omen. On board is the golem Minder, the halfling Foxilon Cardluck, and Ishi Barasume of Kozakura.

There was a dialogue of Espruar (elvish), though looking at it was just a transliteration of an English phrase that was given as the translation. Though a few pages later we have a couple words for a magical incantation that do not have translations. If you put it into our alphabet you get "spiritual" and "hammer" which makes sense with the spell that is cast.

Vartan Hai Sylivar, gold elf cleric of Labelas Enoreth from Evereska is recused from some gnolls who were going to sacrifice him to Yeenoghu, the demon lord worshiped by gnolls. Aside, this "hai" seems to be followed by a racial designation; Sylvar almost certainly refers to his elven blood, just as Mistinarperadnacles Hai Draco is a dragon.

At the end we are introduced to a villain and his minion doppelgänger seeking the hand of the troll and ogre god, Vaprak.

Converging Lines is the second part of the arc. The story starts with Elminster's assitant getting a notification that the Hand of Vaprak is loose and we quickly cut to Priam and Vartan in Baldur's Gate where they meet the crew of the Realms Master. A game of keep-away, of sorts, takes place, with the hand eventually falling into enemy hands by trickery.

Meanwhile, Alias of Westgate and Dragonbait are summoned to Elminster in Shadowdale since other parties were otherwise preoccupied. If you recognize those two chracters, this is between Azure Bonds and Song of the Saurials. We end with these two as we learn an interesting bit of lore that contradicts the folkloric origin of the Hand of Vaprak explained earlier in the issue.

The Great Game is issue 3 and continues with the party in Baldur's Gate. They go to confront the enemy who is disguised as Gondal of Baldur's Gate. The dungeon/mansion is fun full of magic, undead, and magical creatures. I don't want to get into too much detail, but this is the low point before the baddies are defeated in the final issue for the arc. The setup for part 4 is done well.

Fools Rush In starts off beautifully, giving us the sad reality of the ensuing battle that started in part 3. In this explosive conclusion against the evil oni, we learn more about the origins of the Hand of Vaprak. This was a fun tale, and I'm interested in what direction the next arc, The Dragonreach Saga, will go for our heros.

At the end of The Hand of Vaprak! I still prefer novelizations, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the way comics tell stories. I don't feel very qualified to judge, but I did enjoy the art, though it does seem like it's from the 80s. Just as I enjoy movies, books, ttrpg's, I think each form gives us something different that we can all enjoy. I do not plan on reading any comic books outside of the Realms, but I do plan on reading more inside. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Review: Tallfolk Tales by Lisa Smedman

Tallfolk Tales by Lisa Smedman is a tie-in to the standalone The Gilded Rune. Since Tallfolk Tales is in Untold Adventures, it came out a year before the novel and so I thought it would be fine to read first as well. I want to read the novel soon.

The story is a retelling, as Daffyd, is in a taproom in Gracklstugh (an Underdark duergar city) telling a surface elf about an expedition into Araumycos and who the best guide is for surviving the behemoth fungus. It’s narrated in first person with no quotation marks.

Daffyd is a morndin, a reincarnated dwarf put into the body of another race. In this case, Daffyd is human but believes his spirit is that of a shield dwarf from Clan Ironstar, a clan long extinct. This story is very fun and very easy to read because of the unique style it is presented in. Tallfolk Tales is Exceptional, and I can't wait for the novel.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Review: Rancor by Dave Gross

Rancor by Dave Gross is Baldur’s Gate tie-in fiction piece from Dragon+ issue 18 of February 2018. Dave Gross was once head of Dragon Magazine, and also wrote many short stories and some novels in Forgotten Realms. 

This story is blurbed at the start and calls Rancor “the previously untold backstory of Dorn’s famed magic sword (with homage to a certain cinematic treasure hunter intended)!”

In a boobytrapped ruins of a temple to Bane, Dorn Il-Khan seeks a powerful ebon blade. He is accompanied by an Amnian thief named Barranca. I believe this is an origin story to Dorn’s paladinhood, but I’m not too familiar with the character. This story is really short, and does have a very Indiana Jones-esque scene. I have never played any of the Baldur’s Gate games beyond Dark Alliance 1 & 2, but fans of the games would probably enjoy this, especially with Gross’s easily accessible writing style and cameos of characters from the games. Rancor is Acceptable.


You can track my current progress here.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Review: Watchers at the Living Gate by Paul Park

 Watchers at the Living Gate is a short story by Paul Park found in Untold Adventures, an anthology with tales from multiple D&D settings. Lord of the Darkways and Dreaming of Waterdeep are also in this anthology while also simultaneously in Dragon Magazine. There is also one more short story set in the Forgotten Realms not found elsewhere bringing the total to four. I'm not reviewing the anthology as a whole because only about half of the stories are in the Realms.

Paul Park has written one more Realms story, and that is a standalone novel that takes place in the Moonshaes, The Rose of Sarifal. I have yet to read it. I thought reading Watchers at the Living Gate would give me a good taste of the author's writing style.

The story follows Haggar, a half-orc druid, as he discovers an eladrin woman in the ruins of Cendriane. This adventure takes us into the feywild, where eladrin go against the undead of the vampiric Lord Kannoth. It’s a very interesting dynamic our characters have, a mix of cruelness and almost chivalrously medieval attitudes.

explorers in the ruins of Cendriane by Eric Belisle

By some odd pact Haggar and the eladrin Astriana help each other with certain tasks, most pertinently, Haggar helps Astriana to close a gate to the Far Realm in the fomorian lands of the feydark. This story was fun and I really wish I could see what comes of the characters after this, with their unique situation and relationship. Paul Park has an interesting style, and I’m interested in reading his one Realms novel eventually. Watchers at the Living Gate is Good.


You can track my current progress here.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Review: Never a Warpig Born by Ed Greenwood

 Never a Warpig Born is the first Spin a Yarn tale. In 2001 Ed Greenwood started this series, writing one every year for the next decade or so. The tale was woven together from pieces requested by attendees of Gen Con. This results in some odd tales, but Ed Greenwood is the perfect storyteller for such things. It can be found here free for your reading pleasure.

Greenwood at Gen Con 2001

Never a Warpig Born takes place in Ordulin the capital of Sembia where the Red Wizards of Thay are trying to establish an enclave. We go to Hallowmere House, where the lady Haugratha of the place hosts the Red Wizards. This story is a little absurd, as The Simbul (Witch-Queen of Aglarond), Durnan (proprietor of the Yawning Portal), Alustriel Silverhand (High Lady of the League of the Silver Marches), Elminster (Sage of Shadowdale), Mirt (the Moneylender), and the Srinshee (of Myth Drannor fame) all appear.

No date is giving but I would guess somewhere between 1368 DR and 1374 DR, though this is of course conjecture.

We are quickly introduced to an unlikely pair of half-orc and talking boar, named Orokh and Warpig respectively. We also meet Dalance Shareth, a name I have not heard before, supposedly the leader of the Sembian Church of Mystra.

This was a great, lighthearted read, fun like the scene in Innarlith from Lord of the Darkways, but for the entire story. This is an Exceptional tale.

"Whatever you do, do it with love."


You can track my current progress here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Review: Tomb of Annihilation Tie-in Fiction

There are two stories split into four parts that connect to the 2017 adventure Tomb of Annihilation. In recent years most Forgotten Realms fiction we have gotten are short stories from Dragon+ that relate to the recently released adventures, such as Ice Out for Rime of the Frostmaiden, Kallinor's Charge for Descent Into Avernus, A Man & His Dog for Storm Kings Thunder, and so forth. Today let us get into the gritty, undead-filled jungles of Chult.


From Dragon+ issue 14 from June 2017, by Bart Caroll.

Pion, in Neverwinter regales us with the local news: a curse over death,  resurrections are not working, and what about those who were resurrected in the past? (RAFO)

Pion is a gambler, but someone needed to check out the cleric Alfin Biscop’s house, he’d been gone for more than half the twelvemonth. Pion gets the job somehow, poor luck working for the Shadow Thieves. It’s interesting as Pion often thinks in the term of lancebords and chess.

We also get a brief follow up for the antics of the first part of Prelude, where an artificer is in the Positive Material Plane, also known as the Positive Energy Plane and the Plane of Life.

Good, but exceptionally short. There is little here, and it really works as a prelude.

Part 1

Found in Dragon+ issue 15 from August 2017,  by Adam Lee

The story starts with an epigraph by Jessamine, Merchant Prince of Chult, this adds a nice touch, rare enough in fantasy novels, let alone short stories.

Qawasha is a chultan druid of Port Nyanzaru and Kupalué is a vegepygmy. They are partners and work as guides for Jobal the Spider.

There isn't much of a story here, just Qawasha explaining his past. It’s relaxing and fun to read as he explains his interest in the jungle and ruins. He also touches on the influx of foreigners coming to Chult.

Part 2 

From Dragon+ issue 16 October 2017.

We learn that Kupalué means “weed that walks” and that special drink called chatali can be brewed from a plant in the jungles. I am curious if this is similar to coffee or chocolate.

The story starts with the flowering of the two’s friendship, continuing right where part 1 leaves off. But this is mostly dialogue of Qawasha describing the lost city of Mezro to a curious visitor from Baldur’s Gate.

It’s interesting but mostly exposition in the form of dialogue, not much story.

Part 3

From Dragon+ issue 19, published April 2018.

This part is longer and better.  I think fans of the Lost Empires series (my review here

chwinga, elemental spirits native to Chult
) would enjoy this tale. This is one of the few tales in Chult besides The Ring of Winter and The Fanged Crown.

This last part of the tale really shows us a beginning. Qawasha is truly the main character and the title is bit misleading as it could easily be called “Qawasha, Kupalué, Samrith, and Zara.” This last part we also get a sliver of combat for the first time, for those looking for action.

This is an Acceptable tale, if it had more substance beyond just being a prologue, the writing would easily elevate it to good. So for the tie-in fiction for Tomb of Annihilation we have a prelude and a prologue, nothing too exciting. I have not played Tomb of Annihilation though, are any of these characters present? 


You can track my current progress here.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Anniversary GIVEAWAY - Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor

The seventh of March marks one year since I started this journey, blog, and my first post. Since the start I've made about forty posts on this blog, and read twenty-one Forgotten Realms novels/anthologies, and nineteen separate short stories from Dragon Magazine, Dragon+, and even one from a game manual.

When I received the books for my haul in November, I also received a copy of a book I had not ordered, one I already had. That book is Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor. It is a standalone novel written by Carrie Bebris for the SSI video game, and copies of the books came in the collectors edition of the game. There is even a Third Edition D&D module related to the game and novel; for this giveaway though I only have the novel. It will also be limited to the United States, sorry to any international fans!

I'm happy to be able to give this book away though, the copy is in good condition, and if the winner wants to read along with me I will publish some of their thoughts along with my own when I do a review. The giveaway will run for a month, with the drawing and winner being picked at random on March 7.

The blurb on the back of the book reads as such:

A malevolent pool. A diabolical cult. A horrific plan.

A dracolich and his sorcerous queen have seized control of the Mythal, the ancient magic that once protected the war-ravaged elven capital.

Once the elven ruin is completely in their thrall, the cult intends to expand its domination one city—and one soul—at a time.

The fate of all Faerûn lies with four reluctant heroes.

Here are pictures of the copy up for grabs (this copy is actually better than mine):

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you all for joining me on my reading adventures. I got the idea for this blog after reading Downshadow by Erik Scott de Bie (book 3 of Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep), and speaking with an acquaintance who makes Forgotten Realms dramas about Forgotten Realms novels. March of 2020 is still my most productive month so far, since I was playing catch up with all that I head read up to that point. Thanks for joining the giveaway and for sticking around!

Good luck to everyone!

You can track my current progress here.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Review: The Sentinel by Troy Denning

My second Realms novel by Denning, after Faces Of Deception from the Lost Empire Series. I’ve read some of Denning’s books outside of the Forgotten Realms and I know he can craft a decent tale so I looked forward to this one. The Sentinel is book five of The Sundering, the bridge series of Fourth Editon to Fifth Edition lore. I’ve already read books three and six, and it is currently the only series I can not finish that I’ve already started. This is because book one is also book thirty-one of the Legend of Drizzt and I’m only on book elven. Book two of The Sundering is the last novel of the whole Erevis Cale story, and I have not yet read the Twilight War Trilogy.

So I found The Sentinel (published 2014) at a used bookstore and I felt this would be a good standalone novel to throw in between finishing some series. It mainly caught my eye because it was a book closer to the current timeline with 5e and because it starts in Marsember, Cormyr. I’m a sucker for the Forest Kingdom.

Book blurb:

"Embittered paladin Kleef Kenric is on a quest to stop evil forces from taking advantage of the chaos rolling across the land of Faerûn and claiming dominion over the entirety of the Realms.
Stubbornly clinging to his family's worship of a long-forgotten god, Kleef Kenric soon discovers that his god has blessed him with divine gifts, making him one of a new group of Chosen cropping up around the Realms. This divine gift makes him an excellent ally—and a target for those who wish corral his powers.
After battling his way out Marsember, a city besieged on all sides in the wake of the Sundering, he becomes swept up in the mission of a group of odd allies—a warrior noblewoman, an accomplished thief, and a mysterious short pudgy man exuding a faint odor of decay. With the forces of Shade tracking their every step, they travel to the Underdark to thwart the rise of the goddess of Death, but before long Kleef learns that his allies hide dangerous secrets—secrets that could destroy not only Kleef but the very fabric of the Forgotten Realms."

The story starts as Kleef Kenric is on the job as a member of the Marsember City Watch, the city is evacuating under threat from Shadovar. The year is 1486 DR. Kleef’s family has long worshipped Helm, whom has been dead since 1384 DR. The family even kept a great sword enchanted to be as light as a dagger when wielded by a Kenric, its name is Watcher, and the agate in the cross guard is Helm's Eye. 

We are then introduced to Lady Arietta Seasilver, a Chosen of Siamorphe, the goddess of nobility —coincidentally my latest character is a Paladin of Siamorphe and from Battlerise in Cormyr. While her family decides to flea across the Dragonmere to Elversult, she decides to do her duty as a member of the nobility and face the Netherese. 

We also have a chosen of Sune, goddess of love; a supposed chosen of Myrkul, a god of of the dead; and a Prince of Shade. Throw in a magical relic, the Eye of Gruumsh, and we have a fun adventurer on our hands on both land, sea, and earthmotes

Faerûn as it is during the Second Sundering, cartographer Mike Schley

While most of the cast is new and unique to The Sentinel, two characters are not. The first character is from some of Denning's older Realms novels: The Avatar Series, and Return of the Archwizards. Since those take place before the events of The Sentinel, some of you may find reading those before The Sentinel more to your liking. The second character has a smaller role, but was a character that played a small part in The Reaver, book four of The Sundering.

The character work is decent. While we see Kleef's personality at first he later turns into a bland sword for a chunk of the story, though he comes through in the end. Joelle slowly becomes more interesting as we learn more about her. Arietta has some interesting ticks and has good growth for the last hundred pages. 

Since this is The Sundering, be prepared for talks of gods, primordials, returned Netheril, and the changing cosmology that is coming to a fast conclusion. This for the most part was okay by me, though it was a little surprising how almost completely inept the shades were against our protagonists. 

The story pulled me in for the last third, and I really enjoyed the ending; it even managed to be surprising. I liked this book, but not as much as I would have to start. It sort of reminded me of The Nether Scroll of The Lost Empires series. The Sentinel is Acceptable, filling a snug spot in The Sundering Series that brought us to Fifth Edition. Now if we could get more stories in the Forgotten Realms, I'd like to see Denning return to them.


You can track my current progress here.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Review: Garden of Souls by Richard Lee Byers

 Garden of Souls is a short story that ties into the Sembia novel series by Richard Lee Byers, just like Shamur's Wager. It can be found in Dragon Magazine issue 283 from May 2001. The story can be found on pages 72-80.

This story takes place well before the Sembia books, as Shamur Uskevren has more recently married Thamalon Uskeveren, and her first child Tamlin is but an infant. Shamur finds herself with an apparition of her grand-niece, who she has been impersonating, appearing in the home of the Karn family. From there she finds herself in otherworldly circumstances, held captive by a fiend.

story arty by Mark Zug

While it was fun to watch a quick situation which Shamur unsurprisingly dominates, it was a tad confusing at first and lacked great entertainment. The conversation at the end made the story worth it, but overall its not Byers best work. I would say it is Acceptable; Fans of Shamur should read this.


You can track my current progress here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

February Haul: Magazines and More

Oloré readers and adventurers! This month's book haul is a little different than the last one, in fact it hardly contains books. I recently acquired some more Forgotten Realms related magazines. Also, my first piece of fan mail, as it were, came from Niko over at Niko's Book Reviews!

So as you could probably tell from many recent reviews, I enjoy Dragon Magazine, mostly for the Forgotten Realms short stories found therein. I recently acquired issues 283, 299, and 304. These all have fiction pieces relating to the Sembia book series, such as the recently reviewed Another Name For Dawn, Shamur's Wager, plus And All the Sinners, Saints.

I also got issues 74 and 94 of Polyhedron, another old TSR magazine. While these do not have fiction they do have Realms related content. I mostly acquired them for the column The Everwinking Eye, which is about Elminster's various tours of the Vast, the Border Kingdoms, etc.

Last, but not least, I received The Spine of the World (book 2 of Paths of Darkness, sequel series to Legacy of the Drow) and Servant of the Shard (book 3, and also the first book of The Sellwswords) by R.A. Salvatore. Niko knew about my quest to read all Forgotten Realms novels and decided to help me out. I actually currently had book one of the series, The Silent Blade, so this worked out perfectly! 

Have you gotten any Realms material of late? Thanks for reading!


You can track my current progress here.