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Monday, June 28, 2021

Completed Series: The Twilight War Trilogy by Paul S. Kemp

The Twilight War trilogy is a series of novels written by Paul S. Kemp as a sequel series to The Erevis Cale trilogy (my review of that here), as well as a transition in story to fourth edition lore, the third book being released after the core rule books for fourth edition were. The City of Shade is come and Netheril has returned, as so detailed in the Return of the Archwizards series by Troy Dennning. The Twilight War also has an accompanying anthology, Realms of War, that I will be reading and reviewing separately later. (Update: Review here!)

I read first two books in March and the third in June, they are my 51st, 53rd, and 54th Realms novels completed.

Cover art by Raymond Swanland

Shhadowbred (2006) - Amazing

Shadowstorm (2007) - Exceptional

Shadowrealm (2008) - Amazing

“The air itself is an enemy.”


The highly anticipated sequel to the Erevis Cale Trilogy. It’s 1374 DR and a new shadow is over Anauroch, Netheril has returned, and what better setting than the proximal Sembia, home of the Realms best Shade and Chosen of Mask to fall under its shadowy gaze.

If you would like to read specifically about how Thultanthar returned, I suggest The Return of the Archwizards series by Troy Denning. If you want to know how the Leaves of One Night was retrieved, read Mistress of Night by Dave Gross and Don Bassingthwaite. None of these are necessary reading, they’re just tendrils that touch Twilight War in the intricate web of novels set in the Realms.

At the start of Shadowbred, we get a prologue from a young halfling boy named Aril. This is one of the best introductions I’ve read in ages, I had chills reading it. We then follow events started in Sakkors during The Erevis Cale trilogy when the Source cried out when the Sojourner’s servants encountered Ssessimyth. Our first main character is actually Rivalen Tanthul, a Prince of Shade set on conquering Sembia. Then we meet Elyril, a woman, a somewhat mad worshipper of Shar, goddess of darkness, living in Ordulin, capital of Sembia.

Finally we meet someone from the previous Erevis Cale books, the tiefling psionicist Magadon Kest on the Dragon Coast. And on page 82 we finally get a point of view chapter from Cale.

The political maneuvering in this book is great fun, and I’m reminded of the vast depth of history that is present for the Forgotten Realms. This helps with immersion, but is nigh impossible to keep a firm grasp on because of how expansive it is.

We also revisit Selgaunt and Stormweather Towers of the Sembia series, which didn’t feature much in the Erevis Cale Trilogy, so it was almost like coming home, though almost like a home with a stranger in it: the city has changed quite a bit and has a very different feel than before.

This books ends the tale on a cliffhanger, but not a bad one. This tale is clearly the first part, but it does it’s job well. Lots of things happen in this book, and though a large chunk of it is setup, it pays off and we get good action, character development, politics, magic, and more. I was extremely happy with this novel, and ate it up.

“‘Where are you going?’. . . ‘To kill a god.’”

War looms in Sembia, back-dropping a dark fantasy tale of Faerûn.
I first noticed the excellent map at the front of the book. This story doesn’t start off as well as the first book, but nonetheless we find a trio of poor friends in a freezing hellscape. 
An encounter with Mephistopheles, Lord of Cania, saves their skins when a bargain is struck, a surprising one with shocking addendums.

Elyril is still a fun antagonist to read about, made more interesting as she descends into madness. Kefil is a unique companion for her, and I'm not entirely sure he is anything more than just a normal dog.

Chapter two returns us to Sembia politics with Abelar at a monastery dedicated to Lathander, and Mirabeta in Ordulin. Enticing details, juicy and intriguing, a nice contrast to the tough deadliness of Cale. 

The whole plot-line with Phraig was played out very well, and it was something that I was not expecting at all.

At times the books plot seems to be at the pace of an infant’s crawling, other times things flow rapidly. We also get to see some higher ups on a cosmological scale, mostly of nefarious alignment and reputation. The worshippers of Lathander in this series shine a good light on the faith, almost making up for their gods brash arrogance.

Lots of intense events happen closer to the end. We see a third Prince of Shade during the climax of the story, Yder, the same from The Sentinel. This climax was extraordinary, and bumps a novel that was somewhat suffering from sequel syndrome, but was still good, into higher territory. In fact the ending was even more epic than that of Shadowbred.

The juxtaposition of the fates and gods working in Saerb and Selgaunt makes an interesting contrast for peoples on the supposed same side of civil war.

“How can you not feel awe as you watch a sun die?”

Cynical characters abound in this dark tale. We brought back to a shadowy tale, as the events of the last book settle over the land. Having taken a few months of a break, it was soothing to be back into the story. It starts at the beginning of the month of Nightal, basically our December.

As far as evil goddesses go, I much enjoy the philosophy of Shar and her followers over that of Lolth. Cynicism over unavoidable entropy seems more natural and believable to me. Every page of this book is a joy, even if it is dark. Seeing all the surviving pieces come together in such a beautiful show, an epic battle I don’t think I’ve seen rivaled in any other D&D novel so far. Cosmology shifts, divinity traded and lost. It's hard to write much since I do not want to spoil the story.

The epilogue takes place in 1479 DR, over a hundred years later, and likely was to setup the trilogy that later got condensed and made part of The Sundering: The Godborn.
Overall this trilogy is much darker than the first. There isn’t brightness from Jak in this one, and with Magadon’s deteriorating status, all seems to be descending into shadow. It’s nothing short of  Amazing honestly; The Twilight War trilogy now stands as my favorite Realms series to date.


You can track my current progress here.

Monday, June 21, 2021

What was the first Dungeons & Dragons novel?

For over four decades fantastic Dungeon & Dragons novels have been published for the publics reading pleasure. For over thirty years, we’ve had novels set in the Forgotten Realms, but before the Realms became the flagship setting, there were novels for other settings, such as Dragonlance and Greyhawk.

To explore the origins of the D&D novel line, we should first touch on the campaign settings that constitute the published fantasy worlds of D&D today. The first official setting was Blackmoor in 1971, three years before OD&D was released. This was David Arneson’s world for his wargames and early D&D games. One year later, in 1972, Greyhawk started taking shape. Beyond creating these original settings, Arneson and Gygax are the co-creators of D&D as a whole. 

So back in 1978, D&D was rather young, and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons --the more direct ancestor to the current fifth edition-- was not quite a thing. While some fiction, particularly a novella published in pieces in the first editions of Dragon Magazine, had already been released, 1978 was the chosen year for the first full length novel. The author would be none other than Andre Norton, winner of a Gandalf Grand Master award, SFWA Grand Master award, and an inductee of Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. Norton was also featured in Gygax’s famous Appendix N found in the original Dungeon Masters Gyide, which lists the speculative fiction that influenced his D&D works.This novel would be Quag Keep. It came about after Norton played a single session of D&D with Gary Gygax. The novel takes place in Greyhawk, but seeing as The World of Greyhawk wasn’t released until 1980, this is really proto-Greyhawk. 

Before its official setting release in 1980, Greyhawk had been featured in a number of adventures, such as S1 Tomb Of Horrors, S2 White Plume Mountain, and T1 The Village of Hommlet. In 1975 there was also an additional rule set released for Original Dungeons & Dragons by Gygax and Rob Kuntz titled Supplement I: Greyhawk, though it only actually makes two references to Greyhawk.

So Quag Keep, apart from being set in the still forming world of Oerth (the planet of Greyhawk, as Toril is for the Forgotten Realms), was also quite different from subsequent D&D novels. It’s an odd sort of portal fantasy, a type of fantasy with the most popular example being CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. People from our world are somehow, in a magical way, transported to fantasy-land. The plot here is really interesting, as in Quag Keep, instead of coming to Greyhawk just as normal mundane persons from Earth, in this case they take the place of the fictional D&D characters, specifically ones designed by a new miniature company. Somehow this company transports the players into this fictional world for real. The novel actually features dice, attached to an un-removable brace on each of the seven characters. These dice roll during key moments of fate. The players/characters are bound by geas to complete their quest, this geas bringing the unlikely companions together. There is also an interesting take on alignment, which involves certain smells that go with people of chaos or law.

It's an odd mix of science and fantasy, and the blurb on the back even describes it as so; along with calling D&D a wargame, which may seem odd to those who know it as "the world's greatest role-playing game" (See Jon Peterson's The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity for more on this). At the end of the novel, many questions are left unanswered, though there is a sequel where some could be answered: Return to Quag Keep was released in 2006 by Andre Norton posthumously and Jean Rabe.

Being the fist novel for D&D marks Quag Keep as a special book. Its success for the medium paved ways for Weis and Hickman's premier Dragonlance novel Dragons of Autumn Twilight, in 1984 and the first Forgotten Realms novel by Douglas Niles in 1987: Darkwalker on Moonshae.

I read Quag Keep in my off time from posting in the last few months after finding it for $2 at a used bookstore. I have yet to read the sequel, but I would like to eventually, and I'm interested to see if it continues along in the proto-Greyhawk world, or in the later more fleshed out and final version.

What was your first D&D novel? Have you read Quag Keep? Let me know! My next article I hope to explore some of the lore and other things that can be had in the upcoming release of the video game Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance. I would also like to take a moment to notify any readers that I will now be posting on the first and third Mondays of every month to put less of a burden on my already busy schedule. I may also throw in bonus posts every now and then, so keep an eye out.

You can track my current progress here.