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Monday, June 24, 2024

Review: Realms of the Underdark

Realms of the Underdark, edited by J. Robert King, is a 1996 Forgotten Realms anthology. It is about the same size as other Realms anthologies but with fewer and longer stories. There are only five proper ones. If you would prefer to listen/watch this review, do so here.

We start with a publishing house in Waterdeep, a compliment to the real-life TSR called Tym Waterdeep Limited, or TWL that published Cormyr: A Novel in the Realms, apparently, the in-universe author being Greenwood Grubb. Volo’s guides are published by them too. It’s pretty interesting and very fun. Very much Realms quirky, as the owner is named Justin Tym. Brian Thomsen wrote this segment and it is set in 1367 DR. 

The first story is by Mark Anthony who gives a Drizzt story. "The Fires of Narbondel" was a test to see if he could write a novel in the series. He did write one after this but it was never published. This more specifically follows Zaknafein as Drizzt is a child, so would fit as an interlude for those reading Homeland

Zak is the weapon master of House Do’Urden and Drizzt’s father and trainer, though Drizzt is too young to begin training at this point. Zak is essentially equivalent in skill with the blade to Drizzt, and he also has more of a conscious than the Lolth worshippers of Menzoberranzan (I won’t generalize all drow as so evil). Narbondel is essentially the sorcerous clock of the city, being in the Underdark this helps the inhabitants of the city know what time it is. 

The affairs turn to Malice as she wishes to go from 9th to 8th house of the city to gain a seat on the council. They use the Festival of the Founding as a ploy, to celebrate the 5000 years of the city’s existence. Malice specifically wants Lolth, who visits in disguise to the city, to grace her house. Drizzt is a child at this point and becomes embroiled in the search for the dagger of Menzoberra, the weapon of the supposed founder of the city. A yochlol has told Malice of this weapon-artifact. 

The whole story of evil is as cartoony as Salvatore’s writing of the drow. The addition of Jalingfang, the Spider Mage, was nice. It also doesn’t suffer from too much action or juvenile philosophy. I think fans of Drizzt should enjoy it, and those that are not fans may not enjoy it but may want to try it out to see. 

The second is "A Slow Day in Skullport" by Ed Greenwood. I’ve previously read this is The Best of the Realms II. It is a nice change of pace since drow are not key here.

Durnan (a thinking man’s Conan), and Mirt (John Falstaff and Glencannon mixed) are the stars of this show, both being Lords of Waterdeep. The story is in Skullport, a city beneath Waterdeep, in 1358 DR, during the same time as Spellfire. It is a romp, very Leiberian sword and sorcery in feel; if you see Waterdeep as Lankhmar and a beholder as an eldritch sorcerous evil. Asper, Mirt’s wife who is somewhat rare in his stories, makes an appearance. Halaster, Elminster and ilithids, oh my!

Story three is "Rite of Blood" by Elaine Cunningham. I had grown used to her short stories of Danilo and Arilyn so was surprised when Liriel Baenre was the star. This is the protagonist of the Starlight and Shadows Trilogy that I’ve been meaning to read forever because I think Cunningham will do the drow better than Salvatore. And I wasn’t disappointed, while largely evil still, I found Cunningham does a good job making the drow feel less like cartoons than Salvatore, same with Anthony’s story above. 

Xandra Shobilar is going to get a target for Liriel’s Blooding, a coming-of-age ritual where she is to track and kill an intelligent, sapient creature. The target is a Red Wizard of Thay, one of the school of necromancy. This is an overly cunning and knowledgeable prey for the prodigy wizard, Liriel. That’s because Xandra wants him to be an opponent that will kill the young drow she is jealous of. 

Liriel has golden eyes, just as Drizzt has lavender compared to the normal red of drow. She is the daughter of  Gromph, of all people. She seems more in line with the wiles of most drow than Drizzt but this is also a rather young drow and I’ll have to read to see how her character changes. 

Story four, Roger E. Moore’s "Sea of Ghosts" follows a deep gnome and a derro, once slaves of the drow, who return to destroy an egg they were once forced to bury. It is set beneath The Eastern Shaar, which is the first time I’ve read fiction there, so that was appreciated. As was the little-known dwarf settlement, Raurogh’s Hall.

Wykar is the gnome and Geppo is the derro. The latter is more tame than normal, he doesn’t act in great violence and he doesn’t lie. It’s a nice outsider derro take, and the first I’ve read of them since Venom in Her Veins

As is not surprising with a sea setting in the Underdark, kua toa are antagonists. I was not super interested in this one at first, but the magic rings and interesting quest and companions piqued my curiosity. It has a rather disturbing and touching ending.

Story five is "Volo Does Menzo" by Brian M. Thomsen. At the time of this release, he was managing editor of fiction at TSR, and since the last piece in the work is a fictional afterword just like the foreword at the publishing house of TWL, Thomsen does 3 of the 7 sections within!

This final story is about Volothamp Geddarm and a tavern master from Skullport, Woodehous. This ties into the foreword and afterword, and also into Once Around the Realms, a story of Volo traveling all around Faerun written (unfortunately) by Thomsen. Specifically, it is a trip to Menzoberranzan for Volo’s Guide to the Underdark. Of course, this journey is made as slaves. 

The story is fun and short. There is a reference to Morpheus which felt out of place, and some exceptionally dumb drow. The “long-winded piece of fiction” comment made me chuckle, though.

"Back at the Publishing House". Justin Tym and TWL return. They weren’t used over much. Tym has a similar role in Realms of Magic and is referenced in Realms of Mystery, Realms of the Arcane and The Mage in the Iron Mask

Also there is no R. A Salvatore in the collection, which is surprising since he’s the poster boy of the Underdark. I’m glad he wasn’t , and you still get Drizzt I think fans of the series will enjoy. 

Too focused on Menzoberranzan and Skullport but fun overall. It's an acceptable anthology.


You can track my current progress here.