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Monday, May 13, 2024

Intermission: Shelves Together

 I have just moved and am not quite settled enough for more reviews, those shall follow shortly. I’m the meantime I wanted to share two things.

The first is the bookcase with my Forgotten Realms novels. As you can see, they are stuffed together! The top shelf even has 3 faces. This is the first time they’ve been in one case, rather than spread throughout the rest of my books, since I lived in Colorado. 

The second thing are my ttrpg books! I had some on a shelf until December 2021, but the last time all were on a shelf was May 2020. I made a small video of this one if you care to watch!



You can track my current progress here.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Milestones Galore: 100 Books Read!

 On Saturday, April 13, I finished Pool of Radiance by James M. Ward and Jane Cooper Hong. This was the 11th novel-collection set in the Forgotten Realms that I’ve finished this year. This means two things.

The first is that I have now matched the number I read last year, and it’s only the middle of April! Admittedly, I read less than desired last year, but this is a good start to a better number this year.

Secondly, this was the 100th fiction book I’ve finished! From 2017 when I first read Brimstone Angels to 2020 to when I started this blog, this feels like a good milestone. This also means I’m about 1/3 through my goal to read all the fiction set in the Realms!

It’s been a great journey full of adventure. Thank you, everyone who has stopped by and been along for the ride. From beyond the Sea of Swords to lands far in every direction, I’ve experienced magic, deadly perils, and great friendships. Thanks to Ed Greenwood and all the writers and editors that made it happen. I hope the Realms continues to be a joy for me for years to come. 


Monday, April 1, 2024

D&D Honor Among Thieves - One Year Later

 March 31st, 2023 saw the official release of the film Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. At the time of watching it a couple days before it was released generally, I enjoyed it but was nit-picky on a few points. Those points stand, except the Elminster/Simon thing with the Helm of Disjunction. What has become obvious over the last year is how much I have enjoyed the film.

There are new places that fit well in the Realms, like Revel's End or Korinn's Keep. Something like the High Sun Games arena smack in the middle of Neverwinter is a bit silly, this can be overlooked for the sheer amount of joy the film brings. It really evokes the tabletop experience, being both chaotic and enchanting. Plus there are nice details, like the Spear of Aoth Fezim being mentioned, Fezim being the star of the Haunted Lands Trilogy, and the Brotherhood of the Griffon series, both by Richar Lee Byers. Also the use of Thorass script, which I will be exploring later.

You can tell fans of the Realms made the film. Even though Ed Greenwood didn't make a cameo like Stan Lee the film has been watched more than a dozen times in my house and I look forward to watching it more.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Review: Bound for Ruin by Jaleigh Johnson

 For some reason the new novel has an insanely long title Dungeons & Dragons: The Fallbacks: Bound for Ruin. This first part is of course the IP, where traditionally Forgotten Realms would have gone. The Fallbacks is the series name, and hopefully we do get sequels. These suggests a shift in Forgotten Realms fiction, one that feels more like game fiction rather than fantasy fiction that also happened to be for a game. Bound for Ruin is the actual title and how I will refer to it.

Following up the movie-tie-ins released last year, this is the first Forgotten Realms novel besides that is not Drizzt since the novel line was discontinued in 2016. It is the first not attached to other media, and maybe a sign the much beloved novel line will see revival. That remains to be seen as one or three novels hardly counts, and neither does the eternal [mediocre] Legend of Drizzt.

Can this band of mismatched misfits stay together in the face of danger? Or are they bound for ruin?

Released on 5 March 2024 readers will find themselves with a novel more along the lines of the movie tie-ins, as stated above, it is very obviously game fiction. I generally enjoy how I can ignore that in older FR stories, but utilize pieces in my games however I like. This is almost certainly not Johnson's call but whoever is in charge of the novel. So, it smacks of emasculated 5e lore, set on the Sword Coast, a cute pet version of an aberration and so forth,

Though cheesy it's not bad (and hopefully leads new releases of novels I so love). The length is wonderful, and I'm glad the novel is not bloated like much fantasy is these days. The characters are many, certainly going for a party like around the gaming table. I've read a few that feel similar to this but not so much like equivalents to a paper stat block. But we have Tess, labeled so much on the nose as "The Rogue"; Anson "the Fighter"; Cazrin "the Wizard"; Baldric "the Cleric" (his getting spells from multiple gods seems alright since everyone in the Realms worships each deity, but it also feels very wrong as that's not how patronage or priesthoods work and it makes deity look for dumb in a very modern, obnoxious, ignoring alignment way); Lark "the Bard"; and the oytugh is fine though awfully silly (and ironic since in my current campaign the party just slayed one). The "party" even has no name as "they haven't agreed on one yet". Sounds like tabletop shenanigans but does set up some room for some good identity forming. While something like Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser was silly like much D&D devolves into, it didn't feel like parody.

The plot is about getting a job to become famous and rich. The party finds disaster instead. This starts in a ruined Oghma temple, I was very happy the patron deity was named immediately. I appreciate the in medias res start, it is interesting from the start, though it starts in the Sword Coast (surprise surprise, WotC forgot other parts of the Realms exist). 

We see mind flayers, a lich, shambling mounds, rust monsters, and things more extraordinary; mentions of Selune and Oghma, Tyr and Kelemvor; Baldur’s Gate and Waterdeep, plus mentioning of other places along the Sword Coast or in the Sea of Swords; the Zhentarim are a main antagonistic force. I particularly enjoyed the mention of Marsember and Valindra Shadowmantle! Volo, monks of Candlekeep, Beregost, and more to be happy with here.

The characters aren’t all the best of buds, considering this is their first gig together. Anson and Tess were friends beforehand, but otherwise, they had to build the party, this is shown in some flashbacks and the obvious result will be The Fallbacks. There are some characters that are non-binary-gendered.

Having Tessalynde be overweight is a nice change of pace on representation but you don't see it much in fantasy for similar reasons you didn't lots of overweight people in the classic or medieval periods, or even up until a handful of decades ago, there weren't many. Maybe Faerun has heavily processed foods and an exceptionally sedentary lifestyles? It's a little bit jarring since she's an elf, too, but she actually seems the most athletic of the group.

So beyond the parody this feels like, Johnson does a good job. I do worry that every future installment will be drivelous in this satirical fashion. I want stories that feel part of a world, not some fictionalization of a game. You could always peak beyond the pages to the rulebook or dice in some novels but most were obscured and felt like a real world: again this feels like a parody of that. I think this is more excusable as it’s really a young adult novel. If you like family getting involved in things they shouldn’t, or questioning your place with friends, or terrible monsters made cute then you’ll probably like this. But the parody works better in the film, probably not at some objective standard but because what the novels were before. Those new to the novels likely won’t mind.

But for all my complaints I support this novel. I'm glad we have another Forgotten Realms novel. I'm glad it's Jaleigh Johnson who wrote novels before the line was axed and so knows the Realms. If this is all we get I would be a little disappointed in the style but I would take it over nothing, or what is even worse, just Drizzt. Maybe they’ll even try to capitalize on Baldur’s Gate 3's success. 

I should point out my criticisms are for WotC rather than the quality of the novel, this is actually a fun novel and Johnson should be commended for a job well done and doubly for keeping the novel line for the Forgotten Realms alive! 

Honestly the cheeky reference to Alias of Westgate in chapter ten was golden and that alone is worth a Good rating. Alone those lines are the songs the bard actually sings. I appreciate this over “they sang a song”.


You can track my current progress here.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Review: Realms of Valor

Realms of Valor is the first of the Forgotten Realms anthologies, edited by James Lowder and released in 1993. Each story has an accompanying piece of artwork. This is decently common but was certainly a nice touch. These pieces are done by Ned Dameron; Clyde Caldwell did the cover. I've previously reviewed Realms of the Deep, Realms of War, The Halls of Stormweather, and The Best of the Realms II. If you would rather watch or listen to this review, click here.

“The Lord of Lowhill” by Douglas Niles

Pawldo A halfling exits his home in a hill, like a hobbit hole. This is on the Moonshaes, Niles stomping ground for his Moonshae and Druidhome novels. Our Tolkien-esque hero braves the Palace of Skulls. Pawldo is an aging halfling, grey of hair and Lord Mayor of Corwell. He contemplates his duties and a gift he can give to the king and queen in token of their friendship and the couple's anniversary. This is tied to the Moonshae Trilogy and by certain roles certain characters have it is likely best to read after those books. In fact, it released a month before the last of the Druidhome trilogy, The Druid Queen. It may be best read in publication order but I have yet to read Niles' novels.

The story itself involves an item found in the Llyrath Forest, where the Castle of Skulls only appears once in a generation around the Summer Solstice. This reminded me of a Fane in a forest lake in the Erevis Cale books, and it’s a fun trope. There is a dark character here, Ketheryll. Pawldo also has a companion, Stefanik, and there is also a wolf companion. There is good Tolkien-esque changing of legend too, as this Palace has a few accounts of its origin. 

“Elminster at the Magefair” by Ed Greenwood is a classic. We start with Storm Silverhand who is traveling with the physically unimpressive Elminster. They have been traveling by horse for some time, the two enjoying each other’s company rather than using spellcraft to teleport. They go to a magefair, an auspicious event that is exactly what it sounds like. This epigraph that introduces the story tells us what to expect: “What’s more dangerous than a mage out to rule the entire world? Why, a mage at play, of course…” - The Simbul.

The duo meet an arrogant mage on the road, he is sentinel to the fair and cries a challenge to Elminster. The exciting yarn only goes more into a silly romp, the campiness and immolation Greenwood is known for and does well. Storm is mostly a bystander since she is not a mage herself. Elminster enjoys the journey more than Storm, and we get her irony wryly. You can imagine how dangerous, but full of wonders, such an event is. Elminster desires a key and this gives the story nice twists.

“One Last Drink” by Christie Golden is another classic. Taking place in Mistledale in 892 DR, this an early story of Jander Sunstar from Vampire of the Mist. About 300 years after the start of his undead and life and 200 before his time in Barovia. Our vampire sun elf waits in the town for his sire, Cassiar. With his friend, fellow elf Rhynn Oriandis, a Rider of Mistledale, he is worried that his master will force him to drink blood from innocents. He uses the opportunity of somewhat powerful patrons in the Black Boar Inn to rid himself of the man who turned him into a creature of the night. 

This is a tale of darkness and hierarchy and curses and friendship. I’ve always liked vampires and particularly the trope of a vampire who is saddened by his or her state as one. Jander is a good exemplum because he is a Sun elf and also worshipped Lathander, the Morninglord, before his vampire days. 

“The Bargain” by Elaine Cunningham is a tale of Arilyn Moonblade and Danilo Thann. The latter is a young Waterdhavian noble and the former is a half elf. Both are Harpers at this time. Arilyn is also an assassin and Danilo a mage, albeit a poor one. Their relationship is fun, and you can explore it in Cunningham’s Songs & Swords novels. I have yet to read them but I have heard nothing but high praise. I have read the short stories “Redemption” and “The Great Hunt” starring them. Apparently, it takes place a few months prior to the novel Elfsong, the second of the series.

It takes place in Tethyr as the duo are sent to warn Pasha Balik, a warlord vying for the throne, of a plot on his life. It turns out that there is a lesson for a youth within the pages. 

“Patronage” by David Cook is told in first person, which is a nice change of pace. Master Koja is our narrator and he is told by his secretary that Duke Piniago’s dinner is tonight. He is a lama, a well-known historian. They are in Procampur sometime after the Tuigan horde was stopped. Such events tie into the Horselords novel also written by Cook. 

This story is a bit slower as you can guess when our main character is surrounded by parchment and ink. It’s a cozy one. 

“A Virtue by Reflection” by Scott Ciencin is set in Arabel and follows Myrmeen Lhal like Ciencin’s novel The Night Parade. It starts with a mugging of a merchant on the streets, setting up a dark tone. 

Myrmeen is the ruler of Arabel, a city in northeastern Cormyr. She is expecting a delegation but has to deal with a murder anyway. This story involves the Cat Lord, not Gord nor the one from the comics. 

“King’s Tear” by Mark Anthony starts with a necromancer in the southern portion of the Sunset Mountains. This necromancer, Kelshara, shows herself to be cruel and we then learn what a King’s Tear is: a jewel said to be solidified tears of ancient kings and they supposedly reveal what those kings loved most. Kilshara wants the Tome of Midnight and hopes to find it within the Tears. 

Tyveris is a handyman at Everard Abbey, which gives patronage to Oghma and is named for the ancient Farseer king. Tyveris was originally a slave and then a warrior in Iriaebor. He has recently learned to read and taken up a more peaceful life. Still, he is an outsider and many at the abbey worry he will give in to rage at some point. 

We get a story about necessity, violence, and truth. It’s a nice tale about finding home and overcoming vices. 

“The Family Business” by James Lowder. This is the story of young Artus Cimber, who appears in Lowder’s Ring of Winter novel. Artus is with his father Shadowhawk who is teaching his son to be a highwayman. This is in Cormyr and Azoun may come into play. It’s a very interesting story of trying to please your father. 

This has a tiny amount of politicking but is largely a story of running from assassins and defining a young man’s future.

“Grandfather’s Toys” by Jean Rabe starts with a druid, Galvin, and involves characters from Rabe’s Red Magic novel. Galvin is asked to search an old tower for a little girl. He finds it more challenging and dangerous than he had presumed. 

This is a tale of shape-shifting, saving a child, and parlousness in so doing.

“The Curse of Tegea” by Troy Denning is a very exciting tale as it is about cleric of Mystra, Adon. This is the same character from the Avatar Saga, the only one of the party not to attain godhood. This tale is mentioned in the last Avatar novel, but it’s nice to actually read it. Adon, once a follower of Sune is now high in the clergy of the Church of the Lady of Mysteries. He is joined by young acolyte Corene. 

The village of Tegea is suffering from a curse. This is on the edge of Cormyr, in the Stormhorn Mountains on the coast of the Dragonmere, though Denning mistakenly says it’s in the Dragonjaw Mountains. 

This is fun story dealing with church business. The curse is from an overbearing Duke and affects those that displease him. This magic of his seems to overpower that of Mystra, the goddess of magic herself. 

“Dark Mirror” by R. A. Salvatore is the final story and is of course a Drizzt story. After the retaking of Mithral Hall in Streams of Silver, Drizzt has been invited to Silverymoon. It seems to be near the ending of The Halfling’s Gem. On his way he encounters an odd situation between goblins and humans from Pengallen. 

It is told in first person from Drizzt’s perspective. Rico and Nojheim are interesting characters, and good foils. This experience definitely seems to have stayed with Drizzt as it reminds me of some mercy he wanted to give to goblins in Sea of Swords. It is okay as a story.

This story also appears in The Collected Stories collection for the Legend of Drizzt.

Afterword by Jeff Grubb. I read this piece when I acquired the book a couple years ago. It was here that Grubb mentions “One Comes, Unheralded, to Zirta”, the first Forgotten Realms story. While it was lost at the time it must have been later found, a decade later it appeared in The Best of the Realms II: The Stories of Ed Greenwood. It’s a worthwhile read but in the back rather than being a foreword for those who don’t care. 

Overall I very much enjoyed the anthology. It has some great stories but these are accompanied by more mediocre fair. It is a Good one, either the whole thing or whatever individual tales pique your interest.


You can track my current progress here.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Review: Baldur's Gate by Philip Athans

 Not the only novel to align with a video game, this one has a rather poor reception compared to the likes of Azure Bonds. Released half a year after the game of the same name, Baldur's Gate by Philip Athans follows the adventures of Abdel Adrian.

Released in 1999 the story echoes the game, set in 1368 DR. Abdel is a sellsword as the story starts, he is with his father as they are ambushed by other sellswords, ones he recognizes. Gorion receives a fatal wound but Abdel continues to the Friendly Arm Inn on the road between Beregost and Baldur's Gate. They came from the direction of Candlekeep and were set to meet Jaheira and Khalid at the inn.

In the game, Sarevok Anchev slays Gorion personally, so that is the first change. Sarevok is a Bhaalspawn from Ordulin, Sembia. He is with his lover, Tamoko when we meet him. He is trying to kill his brother and to cause war between Baldur's Gate and Amn. Abdel opposes this.

Abdel himself was raised by a monk, a former Harper, after his mother died in a raid executed by the Harpers. He has venerated Torm over the other gods but has certain murderous tendencies. After finding a note from his father referring to the Avatar Crisis, he gains the companions of the halfling Montaron and the human Xzar. They seem tied up with Nashkel, Sarevok, and the Zhentarim.

Overall, the book incorporates Forgotten Realms lore well, we even get Iron Throne and Pacys the Bard mentioned (from the Threat from the Sea Trilogy). There are ghouls and doppelgängers, kobolds and spiders. There is a plethora of action, and it is a bit tedious (akin to a Drizzt novel). Bhaal is also a god that gets much attention, his emblem graces the cover after all. Another character I liked was Yeslick of clan Orothiar, dwarves from Cloak Wood in Sembia. Elfsong Tavern also makes an appearance. 

One of the silliest scenes I've ever read in a Realms novel is present as well. This is around the time the novels seem to be a bit more openly sexual and featuring nudity. A certain scene with Jaheira and a spider made me laugh it was so absurd. Also, the story has a terminal climax, simply reaching its peak and finishing without a denouement. Overall, it is an Acceptable novel. It is very short.


You can track my current progress here.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Review: King Pinch by David "Zeb" Cook

 No one is beyond gold’s reach.

King Pinch a 1995 novel and is the first book in The Nobles, a series of books focusing on a noble from various locations around the Realms. It's not a true series, just like Lost Empires, and I read the fifth book first, The Simbul's Gift. This one is by David Cook, known more for his game material rather than fiction. 

Ankhapur is on the Lake of Steam and at the mouth of the Thornwash River. This is the home of Pinch, whose guardian is the late Manferic III who once ruled the city. The year is 1366 DR. 

The prologue introduces a funeral precession for a person of great import, the king has died. Pinch, whose true name is Janol Famisso is a potential heir. At the start of the story though he is a thief and crime lord working in Elturel. His partner is the halfling Sprite Heels. 

I really dig the Gord the Rogue and Lankhmar vibes. It’s also a sort of rags to riches but really dishonest to honest, or maybe not, depending on how you view kingship it could be the opposite. 

We get to see Hellriders; a temple of Lathander; military excursions, a good amount of deities mentioned like Cyric, Mask, Kelemvor, Loviator; halflings have furred feet; there is much politicking; scary dwarves; a lich, and more. 

A little darker than many of the FR novels I’ve read, not in much in tone as Erevis Cale, but the battles and aftermath are sometimes rather grim and the thief being the main character has its perks. 

The basic plot is interesting enough but some interesting fantastic (as in fantasy) twists make it more exciting. Much is not as it seems.

Cleedis and Lissa are some side characters of import. The first is an old soldier loyal to the old king. The latter is a priestess of Lathander sent from Elturel to recover the stolen items from the temple there. Of course, the most fleshed-out character is Pinch. 

Overall it is a Good read for Realms' fans. Pinch only appeared in one other fiction piece, the short story “Gallow’s Day” in the Realms of Infamy anthology. 


You can track my current progress here.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Review: The Veiled Dragon by Troy Denning

 Hello, friends! Today I wanted to look at The Veiled Dragon by Troy Denning. This is a 1996 novel that is technically book twelve in The Harpers series but is really only a sequel to Denning's earlier Harper novel, The Parched Sea.

The story starts with our heroine, Ruha. She has left Anauroch and is now in the Dragonmere aboard a caravel piloted by Captain Fowler, a half-orc with the classic piggish snout. After her adventures in the first book in her homeland she is now in the employ of the Harpers herself. She is assigned by Storm Silverhand to get to Pros. She has had one previous assignment in Voonlar. We learn she botched that job and a hundred people ended up in slavery as a result.

The sea trip quickly turns deadly as a dragon is spotted. The cover will give some of this away, but it is honestly a very cool introduction. I even did my own take on it in a short story of my own.

The rest of the story involves the Shou. Like the Bedine, these are analogous to a real-world group. I don't think these would be written today but likely were written to sell Oriental Adventures but are obviously orientalist in nature. While I do not care for such an obvious real-world analog in Faerun, the Shou themselves are not deemed lesser but different. There is an odd dialect that the Shou speak that has aged poorly.

Essentially the novel starts great but quickly descends just by the nature of what is being explored. It has some exciting moments and good action, and the descriptions that Denning conjures for a desert-dweller experiencing the sea are executed well. For example, the waves are described as dunes. But after reading this Mediocre book I was looking for better Realms novels.


You can track my current progress here.

Monday, January 8, 2024

2023 Review for the Forgotten Realms Lyceum

 OlorĂ© friends of the Realms! It is a new year! It is now the Year of the Ring, 1393 DR, if you don't jump with fourth and fifth editions. First, I want to say thank you to any readers, whether active or one-time comers. This has been a passion project now for almost four years, and I'm happy to be continuing my journey through the Forgotten Realms this year. I also briefly want to look at statistics.

I posted 36 articles last year, 32 more than the previous year. This was what I was hoping for, publishing at least twice a month to make up for my unintended hiatus in 2022. I still have some reviews coming for novels I read last year, and now I can list all the Realms books I enjoyed in 2023.

Realms of Valor

Realms of the Underdark

Realms of the Deep

Baldur's Gate by Philip Athans

The Parched Sea by Troy Denning

The Veiled Dragon by Troy Denning

The Druid's Call by E. K. Johnston

The Road to Neverwinter by Jaleigh Johnson

King Pinch by David Cook

Sea of Swords by R. A. Salvatore

Sandstorm by Christopher Rowe

I had previously read three Realms anthologies and in 2023 I doubled that. I also finished Paths of Darkness and read the tie-ins to the Honor Among Thieves film. But I largely read standalones. I also only read eleven, which is considerably less than a typical year. 

So, in 2024, I am hoping to get back into some series. There are many, many trilogies I have and been wanting to read and I think I will start with the Cormyr Saga. Cormyr is one of my favorite locations and I like Greenwood and Grubb's writing. I'm also looking at the Moonshae Trilogy, Starlight and Shadows, and many, many more. 

What are your Forgotten Realms plans for 2024? Amarast!


You can track my current progress here.