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Monday, February 27, 2023

Review: The Simbul’s Gift by Lynn Abbey

The Simbul's Gift is a standalone novel that falls into the spot of book 5 in The Nobles series. Like many Forgotten Realms series (Lost Empires, for example), these books have a loose theme but are written by different authors about different places and people in Faerun. This story is, unsurprisingly, about The Simbul. I believe this is one of two novels that Lynn Abbey (best known for coedited the Thieves' World anthologies) contributed to the Realms, the other being The Nether Scroll in the previously mentioned Lost Empires series.

Alassra Shentranta Silverhand, Witch-Queen of Aglarond, one of the seven sisters, Chosen of  Mystra-the Goddess of Magic. Quite a character, huh? For those less aware of the Realms characters that appear often and with great power, Alassra, generally called the Simbul, is not really mortal as she doesn’t age. She was raised in Rashemen by the witches there, specifically the witch Oraumae. She is the sixth sister but the most powerful in the Arcane Art (as opposed the Divine variant).  We get a short introduction of her history, and chapter one is set in 1365 DR but most of the story is set in 1368 DR. 

I have yet to read it, but I believe we get more of her history in the short story "In the Bleak Deepwinter" from Dragon 242. I will be reviewing it soon.

We get a great contrast of the Yuirwood elven settlements and the grand capital of Velprintalar, showcasing the lack of homogeneity in Aglarond. The Yuir elves have a deity unique to them, which fits with the verisimilitude since the real world was like that, Zandilar who is sort of Hanali Celanil and Sune mixed with Sharess, she is a goddess of lust basically. In this wood is Ebroin, shortered to Bro, who owns a horse known as Zandilar’s Dancer. He is one of our characters beside The Simbul.

There are also some red wizards of Thay that are important, not surprising knowing their foreign tendencies and closeness to Aglarond. The two countries are often at war, trading territory in their disputes. This makes for a fun conflict, but what Abbey always excels at is her character work. I think you would be hard pressed to find any other author of speculative fiction with such realistic and well put-together characters. 

Which means it is quite a treat to have Abbey write a novel about such an important and beloved character. The cha’tel’quessir and their gods feel so authentic and make this one of the Forgotten Realms stories with the most verisimilitude. It feels so real! Not to mention this cool thing, I won't spoil, that explains the origin of Alassra's title. It is very, very cool.

If this sounds like the novel for you, it is not a terrible place to start. Some do not like the character focus, background plot, that Abbey presents, but I think fans of the Seven Sisters will truly enjoy this novel. For me, it is Exceptional. You can watch my YouTube review here.


You can track my current progress here.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Gamebook Review: Spawn of Dragonspear by Steve Perrin

 Spawn of Dragonspear is a gamebook, a short adventure similar to Choose Your Own Adventure, or Endless Quest. Number 17 in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Gamebook series, it is a little bit more complicated than the other, more popular series. Spawn of Dragonspear is the only gamebook to be set in the Forgotten Realms. It was released in 1988.

You play as Kelson Darktreader, an elven ranger from Daggerford. He also appears in the adventures Under Illefarn, Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, Scourge of the Sword Coast, and Dead in Thay. The rules are explained at the start and they are very simple. You have hit points for health, skill points for skills, and experience points for adding to dice rolls. 

The year is 1354 DR, this being inferred since Kelvin is said to be 55, while in Under Illefarn he is said to be 58 in the year 1357 DR. 1354 is the same year devils take hold of Dragonspear Castle according to The Grand History of the Realms. Kelson during this time is in the Misty Forest, described as "several hundred miles to the southeast . . . of Daggerford" but it's really much closer (see the map).

I acquired the gamebook in the Summer of 2021, right around the time I started my YouTube channel, and I had a thought around that time to stream it on my channel. I waited until I had more of a following, and at the beginning of the year I finally did. I played with my wife and viewers for about an hour and a half. In the end we failed in our quest. You can watch the whole thing here.

Darktreader in 5e

It was a fun experience, though an interesting one. Choices are important. Even if you roll well on some things, you will get poor results if it's the wrong choice of sorts, though there are boons still to be had. I thought I was doomed in the first half an hour before getting a chance to have more adventures. It was thrilling and I am looking forward to playing again. 

The gamebook can be pricey if you find a copy, but it is worth it, especially if you find one with the original pull out character sheet.


You can track my current progress here.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Completed Series: Shadow of the Avatar Trilogy by Ed Greenwood

The Shadow of the Avatar trilogy by Ed Greenwood is concurrent with the events of the original Avatar Trilogy (expanded to five books later). The purpose is to show why certain heroes of the Realms did not help Midnight, Cyric, Adon and Kelemvor in their search for the Tablets of Fate. Because of that it focuses on Elminster and the Rangers Three.

I started the books in late December 2021 and finished in the middle of February the next year.

Shadows of Doom (1995) - Mediocre
Cloak of Shadows (1995) - Acceptable
All Shadows Fled (1995) - Acceptable

Shadows of Doom is about Elminster’s lost of control over his arcane abilities with the Time of Troubles and Mystra’s casting out of the Planes with all the other gods and goddesses. I previously reviewed this one separate from the rest of the series. We get to see good old rogue Elminster as if he was back in Athalantar of his youth, something shown in Elminster: The Making of a Mage.

The liberation of High Dale from the Zhentarim by Elminster and the Rangers Three is the main plot. The latter is accomplished by Sharantyr of the Knights of Myth Drannor, along with harpers  Belkram Hardeth of Baldur’s Gate, and Itharr Jathram of Athkatla, Amn. This small party is called the Rangers Three.

There are some inconsistencies, as the Avatar Trilogy and Shadow of the Avatar do not line up. This is likely due to the series not being written simultaneously or even consecutively with each other. These all released in 1995, as opposed to 1989 of the Avatar Trilogy. I advise you ignore this discrepancy and enjoy a Leiberian (see Fritz Leiber) swashbuckling adventure.

Cloak of Shadows is book two. If you did not like the first book, you may still enjoy the second. Many people bounce off of this series, but I think this one is very lighthearted fun that is supposed to explain the lack of help from these powers to the heroes in the Avatar Trilogy. A magical item, one cloak of shadows is key here, and so are the malaugrym. These are shapeshifting beings from a pocket dimension, they feature prominently in the Shandril's Saga (review forthcoming).

All Shadows Fled concludes the romp, being much more of a direct sequel to book two. Elminster and the Ranger's Three have been doing largely separate things, but for the good of the Realms. There are fun tidbits of Realms lore scattered throughout, something Greenwood is great for.

Overall the series is Acceptable. I would recommend it to fans of the Realms and those looking for a lighthearted campy romp and not something deep to think about, but still having good lessons to find, since Greenwood excels in such circumstances.


You can track my current progress here.