December 2007

Happy holidays! And since I won’t be on-line until next year: I hope you all have an excellent year 2008!

I’ve been a fan of Drizzt ever since I read the Dark Elf trilogy and I’ve read Salvatore’s series faithfully for years. Alas, I’ve come to the conclusion that he doesn’t really write anything new and I’ve also come to loath some of the main characters such as Wulfgar and even Bruenor for being such stereotypes. On the other hand, I’ve rather liked Drizzt, been fascinated by drow culture, and I’ve like Jarlaxle a lot even though he’s character and his band doesn’t really make sense in the supposedly matriarchal drow culture. I rather enjoyed The Servant of the Shard and was looking forward to its continuation. Alas… 

This is continuation of The Servant of the Shard published in 2000. It’s the second in the Sellswords series. If you’re familiar with the main characters, you should probably read the Servant of the Shard first so that you know how they ended up together here. However, if you don’t know them you might as well start with this book. Although, Servant of the Shard is better.

The black elf Jarlaxle used to be the leader of the drow mercenary band Bregan D’aerthe but he has now taken a leave of absence for his own reasons. Artemis Entreri is one of Forgotten Realms’ best assassins and Drizzt Do’Urden’s nemesis. In this book they are working for a couple of dragons who are also sisters. The dragons hire the duo to find magic items which the legendary Witch King has left behind. Apparently he had power over dragons. 

The duo travels to north to the city of Vaasa where they fight and cheat their way to the top of the local mercenaries. Meanwhile one the Witch King’s powerful grimoires finds its way to a village of half-orcs, near Vaasa. A wizard reads the grimoire and it starts to drain her life force which it uses to grow a Castle around itself. This attracts local nobles’ attention and they send a group to investigate. In addition to Jarlaxle and Entreri, the mercenary group includes a wizard, a cleric, dwarfs, and a female commander. At the same time, the local guild of assassins wants to get rid of the duo.

The plot is very typical for Salvatore with schemes, traitors, and detailed fights. Unfortunately, the characters are quite stereotypical: a dwarf who lusts for battle, a human-like (in other words, pretty) half-orc wizardess, and a stupid, ugly, but loyal half-orc fighter. Entreri and Jarlaxle talk a little about the essence of friendship and the meaning of feelings, but not nearly as much as Drizzt. Readers who are bored with Drizzt’s philosophical musings might like this book more. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t give anything new.

Booking Through Thursday

1. What fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007?
(Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)

So far I’d have to say Matthew Cook’s Blood Magic.

2. What non-fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007?
(Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)

I didn’t read any published this year so none.

3. And, do “best of” lists influence your reading?

Yes, of course. Even if I don’t take an immediate notice of them, I can’t help but to notice if some books are mentioned again and again. Also, if I know that someone’s taste in books are completely different from mine, I’ll take a note to stay away from the books they recommend.

Cunningham’s new Forgotten Realms series is based on Halruaa which is ruled by wizards. The blurb on Amazon has some mistakes: Matteo hasn’t got any magical abilities. He’s the main character and he’s a jordain, a person who has been specifically bred to be immune to magic so that he can be a counselor to mages and rulers. Even though they have been thoroughly trained for their task, they know next to nothing of live outside their monastery. They don’t lie, they can’t gather wealth and they fight like monks. The Magehounds are inquisitors whose job it is to keep everyone in line including the jordain.

The second main character is Tzigone, a young woman who is on the run from the wizards. She was born out of wedlock which is very rare in Halruaa because of the tight laws. She is used to running all the time and she gets along with all kinds of people. Occasionally, she dresses as a boy when she performs in the taverns. 

The main villain in the book is the Magehound Kiva who is trying to get the jordains to work for her. Her loyal partner is Mbatu who is a wemic, a creature who is half lion and half man. 

Cunningham paints a vivid picture with Halruaa which isn’t a very familiar place to most readers. The plot centers on political plotting and character interactions but there are some fights, too, especially in the latter third of the book.

 An interesting new series. Cunningham familiarizes the characters quickly and the setting is quite different from the usual Forgotten Realms fare.

The latest of the Song and Swords series gets back to Arilyn Moonblade and Danilo Thann. They are trying to sort out their relationship and survive Waterdeep’s cut-throat politics. They come to realize just how cliquish and elf-hating the nobles of the city are while they are trying to solve the mystery of the magical Dream Spheres. Also, the mercantile family of Thann turns out to have a few secrets of their own. Once again, the rogue elf Elaith “Serpent” Craulnober is in the middle of action, too. 

At first glance, the Dream spheres seem innocent toys that give their possessor the ability to live out their dreams. However, there’s a dark secret behind the artifacts which could destroy the lives of several people. 

This is a good place to read Cunninghamn’s Forgotten Realms short stories because some of them have affected the characters’ lives. Elaith used to scorn Danilo but because of the event in one of the stories that’s no longer the case. Also, the ruthless noblewoman Isabeau Thione was introduced in another of the short stories and she’s one of the main characters in this one. 

Unfortunately, the plot isn’t very original. There are groups of lizardlike assassins roaming the city freely and attacking Arilyn and Danilo with impunity. Waterdeep’s guards are surprisingly ineffective against them and I was left with a feeling that the attacks were action-filler and in the book only because violence is an expected part of the formula. I would have been happier with just a plot involing the mystery.

Edit: Apparently, the final book of the series, Reclamation, isn’t going to happen after all. Too bad.

Another of my reviews: Warren Hammond’s KOP

Even though this is put in the Song and Swords series, it doesn’t contain Arilyn and has only a brief cameo of Danilo. The main character is Bronwyn, another agent of Harpers. She’s an orphan whose family was stolen by slavers when she as just a child. Some family members were brutally murdered and the rest were sold into slavery. For most of her life, Bronwyn was a slave. She learned some valuable skills in order to survive. She had to also learn to survive emotionally and she’s now a very independent and self-sufficient woman, and a professional finder of all weird and wonderful objects. She has her own shop in Waterdeep.

Fairly quickly it’s revealed that Bronwyn’s father is a paladin of Helm and her brother is also still alive. However, her brother is an evil priest of Cyric, the god of Stife and he doesn’t know about his sister. The other main characters are a dwarf Ebenezer Stoneshaft who likes horses and sunlight, and a young paladin Algorind who is on his first quest. All four characters adventure on their own for a large chunk of the book. However, they are all trying to find out the secrets of the Samular Knights so that their secrets don’t fall into the hands of wrong people – the other characters. 

Cunningham has a lot of paladin characters in this book and even one fallen paladin. She makes them more pious than the priests and clearly full of hubris and holier-than-thou-attitudes. They seem to work only as a reminder of blind faith and on as examples of a faithful warriors. This is underlinded by the other paladins’ blind faith to their fallen brother. Unfortunately, it seems that the paladins have different special abilities than they have in the rulebooks. Some of them can detect lies and some can detect evil all the time, except in the company of the fallen paladin. Also, I felt that the paladins’ constant grating behviour is in conflict with their suppsedly high Charisma. So, actually the book works better if you don’t know the rules system. The paladins’ also have very different moral code than rest of the Realms which seem to have fairly modern Western style morals.

This book also felt more role-playing book than the previous ones. Some of the main characters become friends awfully fast and they trust each other also really quickly. Also, they always travel together and even sleep in the same place.

Apparently, Cunningham also tries to bring some moral ambiguity to Realms. She even has the characters say that orcs would be peaceful if the “good” species wouldn’t constantly harass them. This is in direct conflict with other sources. On other worlds I would applaud this effort but here it just doesn’t fit.

Thornhold isn’t as good as the other books in the series.

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