If you’re looking for a D&D/Forgotten Realms novel that is truly different, this is the one for you. Rose of Sarifal is unlike any Realms novel I’ve read before, and probably unlike anything else Wizards of the Coast will publish. The author brings a unique voice to the prose and with it comes a much more lyric story that reminds me more of a dark fairytale than a sword & sorcery novel.
Many readers (myself included) won’t have read the original Forgotten Realms trilogy by Douglas Nile that took place in the Moonshae Isles. For those that have, I’m sure there are a lot of connections to be made, but I didn’t find that it took away from the story not having read the originals.
Paulina Claiborne, as her strange bio implies, seems to be a different breed of D&D author, and from a writing standpoint, she’s much more literary in her ambitions with this novel than her counterparts in the Realms. The caveat here is that you have to be open to a different writing style, one that may grate a little on the reader who consumes sword & sorcery novels as their main reading diet. Her characters are both deeper and stranger than most in the Realms, sometimes stepping outside the genre with their actions and dialog. In parts this is delightful, and it parts it feels like you’re on some strange fey trip through wonderland that balances precarious on a plot cliff (which can be equally delightful).
I feel like Rose deals with certain aspects of the Realms and Dungeons & Dragons that haven’t been dealt with well yet, particularly the Feywild and the fey in general. For the first time, you get a sense of what it would be like to be an Eladrin or and elf and live for hundreds of years. It might be easier to draw comparisons to Shakespeare with this story than it is to draw comparisons with other D&D novels.
I can see why there have been some negative reactions to this book in particular. It reads slow in some chapters and I found myself scratching my head more than once trying to figure out where the plot was heading and discerning true character motivations. The writing is poetic in parts and experimental in others, and this isn’t everyone’s cup of fantasy tea. If you’re looking for a good old Forgotten Realms yarn, this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re looking for something different, and you’re tired of the same old same old in the Realms, give this book a chance. Although I found the reading uncomfortable in parts (I didn’t breeze through this book like many other Realms novels), after I was finished I kept thinking about this novel for days, and it’s one of the few Realms novels I feel like I should go back and re-read for the nuance and beauty of the story. I also find myself recommending this novel to other non-fantasy or non-D&D readers more than others in the Realms line.
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