Sunday, February 10, 2013, 6:39 PM
In Brimstone Angels, Farideh's pact with a cambion called Lorcan gets her, her sister, Havilar, and their adoptive father, a dragon-born called Mehen, kicked out of their village. They end up as bounty hunters searching for a woman called Constancia, who just happens to be searching for Brin, the weedy paladin to whom Havilar takes a fancy.
Their story line gets intertwined with the efforts of Glasya, daughter of Asmodeus, to acquire an aboleth in Neverwinter. The king asked the queen, and the queen asked the dairymaid… In effect, Glasya had Invadiah, queen of the erinyes (and Lorcan's mother), deal with the matter, and she has a resentful succubus, Rohini, try to accomplish the deed.
While our heroes play one side off against the other, Rohini goes over to the aboleths and Glasya's plot fails and the special guest star in the aftermath is Asmodeus himself. Invadiah is demoted, and replaced by Sairché, Lorcan's sister. Lorcan is left to her tender mercies, but Glasya says that she may have a use for him.
In Lesser Evils, the twins start out in Waterdeep where a scrap of paper and a fragment of stone send them off in search of the library of a Netherilian [sic] arcanist, Tarchamus, where Farideh hopes to find a way of getting Lorcan out of the Sixth Layer. The library itself is a trap which is inhabited both by the intellect of the wizard and his mummified body.
The expedition is also complicated by Mira and her associates who are Zhents, and just to add a twist, she's the daughter of Tam, the Harper who Farideh and Havilar have been with since before they arrived in Neverwinter. The Zhents are determined to keep the library from falling into the hands of the Shadovar.
Eventually Farideh frees Lorcan (but the two are bound together to keep them off Sairché's radar) and she then casts a particularly destructive spell, which destroys the library.
Sairché only has a small role in Lesser Evils, but Glasya informs her of Havilar's existence, and there is some great plot in which the tieflings will become entangled.
These are both girl-meets-boy stories with a good dose of they kiss, they fight, they kiss, they fight. Of the two, I preferred Brimstone Angels. Lesser Evils was split into two halves between Waterdeep and the library, but the latter dragged on a bit, which was another reminder of why I'm no fan of dungeon crawls.
Where having read a couple of Shadowbane novels, I'm not inclined to bother with that series any further, I may well continue with Brimstone Angels because the characters are engaging even if the settings may not be.
Thursday, January 17, 2013, 3:29 AM
Having read Shadowbane before rereading Shadowbane: Eye of Justice, I found the latter made more sense because I spent less time wondering what the author was talking about.
I did not spend more time thinking how much better the book was for knowing various facts about which I'd been unaware in the first place. I merely noted all the irritating instances of "coin", "lass", "lad", "folk" and "roil" which I'd missed on the previous occasion.
I noted the utter misuse of " 'ere" for "ere" as if the word was from "here" (which is isn't); or "fop" being used of a woman and "doxy" of a man; or "sir" being used as a title with Kalen Dren's surname. (He'd be "Sir Kalen".) Or the use of "rhetorical" when it meant nothing of the sort; or a bunch of thugs being called "assassins" when they were nothing of the sort; or a "footman" who was no footman at all.
I noted the copious instances of Myrin being referred to as a "wizard" when she's a "witch".
I noted the inappropriate diction such as a few too many instances of "stand down", at least one of "made us" and "strike plan", and an instance of "hock up a lung". What excellent heroic diction.
I got increasingly irked by the narrator's use of questions within narrative paragraphs where it was unclear whether the character was meant to be contemplating the question or the author was trying to provoke the reader in much the same way some school teacher might try to lead some pupil to an answer. If the approach had had a more avuncular tone or the thoughts had come from the characters, it might have worked.
There were a couple of times when someone (typically Kalen, I think) suspected that almost any encounter was bound to be a trap, even when there was no evidence to assume as much. This seemed to be an element of the tone of mystery and suspense with which the author tried to imbue the novel, but as a result, he seemed to be straining for effect.
The characters did nothing for me, either. Kalen Dren was like a broody 15-year-old; Myrin seemed quite endearing at times, and would then come across as a huffy schoolgirl; I did not care one way or the other about Ilira and Fayne, or Lilten and Kirenkirsalai, who were like dropped a couple of Action Men into a bunch of 1/32 scale Airfix commandos (or 6th formers into the 3rd form). But my indifference comes from not having a reason to care about them.
I still think this would be better as manga. It has the right sort of elements, viz. broody hero, silly and dangerous heroine, and ambiguous relationships.
Not a tale I'd recommend.
Sunday, December 30, 2012, 6:37 PM
When I go DVD shopping, I often buy DVDs out of curiosity rather than out of some great desire to actually watch the DVD in question. For example, I watched Premium Rush the other day, a movie which I would not otherwise have considered; but in China you take what you can get.
Until just recently, I'd never read any of the D&D novels. I've seen them in the bookshops for years, but have never been tempted. But I finally decided to bite the bullet and buy some for my Kindle. I started with Shadowbane: Eye of Justice (EoJ).
This was, in truth, a mistake. Because I did not do my research beforehand, I didn't realise that I was starting in media res, and had got a novel in which the characters already had well-established pasts. At best for the novice reader, EoJ supplied broad hints about events preceding the story, but wasn't exactly informative.
Kalen "Shadowbane" Dren ends up in the town of Westgate with Myrin Darkdance in search of someone called Rhett. There they encounter various mysterious people who may be good, bad, or just misunderstood.
There were several Shadowbanes; Myrin Darkdance, an amnesiac witch (yes, a witch, but perpetually and erroneously referred to as a "wizard"; is this apparent aversion to the word "witch" a consequence of the Salem witch trials?); someone called Levia, and someone else called Ilira; and a vampire called Kirenkirsalai who spent much of the book lurking in the background.
I needed to have read the previous book.
And so I bought Shadowbane in which Kalen Dren arrives in his hometown of Luskan, a squalid and wretched place presided over by gangs, and in the grip of a rather unpleasant plague. Shadowbane's sword, Vindicator, chooses Rhett, one of the guards from Waterdeep who have quarantined the town, as Dren's new apprentice. He soon discovers that Myrin is also in town, and there's a reason why he doesn't spend Christmas with his family. Dren tries to bring the gangs together and eventually has to fight the source of the plague itself.
I really need to reread EoJ before I form a definite judgement on the two books, but I would say that Shadowbane is the better one even if it, too, starts in the middle. Even although de Bie has a bit of a mania for mysterious mysteries [sic!], Shadowbane has a more concrete plot than EoJ. [I thought plots were abstract. –ed.] The mystery guest in the former is revealed and used effectively; in the latter, my reaction to Kirenkirsalai was, "Who are you? Why should I care?" I also felt, once I'd read Shadowbane, that Westgate repeated the disreputable town trope – differently, but the underlying idea was much the same.
The language frequently annoyed me.
- "Coin". Just say "money".
- "Lass". Exceptionally irritating; "lad" not much better.
- " 'Ere". No. It's "ere". Nothing has been elided; not ever. Old English ǣr "before". This creates a bad impression.
- "Wizard". Yes, for male characters; Myrin's a woman, ergo a witch.
- The halflings' Mummerset English. It's not cute.
- "Folk". Just let the word die once and for all. Use "people".
- Romance modification. Say "House of Bleth", "House of Thorsaf". English, please.
- Pointless h's: Jhorak, Vharan. Why?
- It's "breakfast" and "lunch". Why call it anything else?
- A "mug of tea"? Oh dear, how plebian.
- "Made us", "stand down". Is this fantasy lit. or an episode of Stargate SG1?
- "Roil". The most overused verb in the WotC repertoire. There's no excuse for this – ever.
- The adjective is "dwarfish".
- "Lair" and "task" as verbs grate to the point that I can hear and feel my brain being rasped away.
- "Ornery"? What is this? Some Zane Grey novel?
- "Nentir Vale" has never needed a definite article; nor "Shadowfell".
I'm going to reread EoJ before I move on to the Brimstone Angels novels to see whether my judgement of it needs revising.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012, 7:36 AM
As I suspected, the end of the holidays and the advent of term saw the end of any progress on Last Breath of the Dragon Queen. I left the heroes in the fountain room about to enter the white dragon's lair. Since then, I haven't been inclined to do any writing, although the story does pop into my head from time to time, and even more quickly pops out.
I was thinking about Last Breath of the Dragon Queen again this evening. I've had it in mind for some time that the party will tackle the matrons in the order in which they tackled Tiamat's exarchs. To this end, I've been thinking that the entrance to the white dragon's lair will be in alabaster covered in astral diamonds. The other entrances will follow the same sort of pattern: emeralds on jade, jet on obsidian, sapphires on lapis lazuli, and rubies on carnelian (or jasper).
I've also been thinking that the dragons inside will be in human(oid) form. I know everyone wants to kill a dragon, but I also think that it makes for better drama if the enemy is outwardly familiar and apparently less harmless than she appears.
The white dragon is a slightly plump elderly woman in a sparkling grey dress. (She's a bit Miss Haversham.) Her hair is silvery grey and in a disorderly state. The green dragon looks like a girl of about 18 with green eyes, but there is something reptilian about her. I haven't decided whether she should look like a tart or a milkmaid. The black dragon has the appearance of a vampire, with pale skin and jet-black hair. She appears to be in her late thirties, but is struggling to be as sexy at 38 as she was at 28. The blue dragon is middle aged. She's short and chubby, and dresses her age, and looks a little like a senior librarian – a homicidal senior librarian. I'm not sure exactly what I want to do with the red dragon apart from red hair and red clothing; tall and malevolent; er, well…; that's it!
There are a few ideas, but far from feeling the urge to write, I feel the urge to sleep.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012, 4:12 AM
One of the things that I've never ceased to dislike about China is the appalling long school day. It's not conducive to being creative: just look at my AS class this afternoon. Bias in the media was the topic. "What do you think?" I asked. I should've said, "What? Do you think?" They had plenty of time to discuss the questions I put to them, but my exhortations to them last year to be creative and imaginative seem to have been forgotten over the summer.
Fortunately in spite of the school day here I managed to find the energy to finish off Test of Fire. It starts with Xerefri turning up in Sayre to fetch the heroes. The adventure makes much of the damage he causes, but rather than having the company remonstrate with him, I had some belligerent woman accosting him about his thoughtless damage to the town, which allowed him to explain insurance and its invention in Amn or the Nine Hells.
I didn't waste too much time taking the party to Keening Delve. I left the slaads out because they're a.) stupid frog monsters. Er, well… That's it! (And that's all the excuse I need.) In fact, I dispensed with all of the monsters in the Delve apart from the final group. The problem was that the monsters would simply attack anyone passing through the caves, which left me wondering how Bashumgarda's disloyal opposition could come and go without getting beaten up.
The narrowness of some of the passages was an issue, but I let the party employ stone-to-mud spells (not 4e?) so that they could all get through. There were places which were pointlessly narrow which I flagged as annoying. Nicoramus, who is a spirit troll, was not keen on jumping into a pool of elemental fire to enter the City of Brass.
I found Estumishu's demand that the party should assassinate Bashumgarda to be repetitive because this plot device had already been used in Tyranny of Souls. I also found it philosophically objectionable. If Estumishu wanted Bashumgarda dead, he should've done it himself or sent his people to do it. In effect, the PCs are being asked to replace one unelected tyrant of a foreign power with another.
I turned the journey across the City of Brass in series of skill challenges which involved Gunpowder telling some outrageous porkies. (Kingdom lied about his height and was Bashumgarda's top spy; Saecula had non-regulation breasts; Nicoramus wasn't visible enough.) All right, I'm not so keen on a lot of tedious fighting, preferring cunning to brutality. It only lasted until they entered the Furnace where some fighting was unavoidable although I let Gunpowder ask an afrît pyre master about how they got water into the City of Brass for visitors who might need it.
By the time the adventurers headed to the Pavilion of the Eternal Flame I'd forgotten that they'd aready been told about Tiamat's plan to harness the power of Elemental Chaos (no definite article required). The white dragon firelord was a little silly to say the least because here's a creature which sends up clouds of steam which not only grant concealment but also stop it from seeing anything. I had it blunder cluelessly about while the PCs tried to disconnect the power of Elemental Chaos from Tiamat's army.
I skipped the main part of the battle against Namissi because I had too many other ideas bouncing around inside my head, but I ought to go back to it and say something more.
I had Bahamut whisked off to Empyron to be cured and then had him conveniently arrive back just in time for speeches with Estumishu and they mutually and insincerely congratulated each other on their successes.
In reality, the battle for the City of Brass would probably be waged over weeks and months; but Tiamat doesn't like to be kept waiting and the afârît are just going to have to wipe their own posteriors.
And thus I head off to deal with the final adventure, Last Breath of the Dragon Queen in which, once again, the Heroes of Overlook must assassinate the leader of their enemies. Now where have I seen that plot before?