Epheros Book Reviews: Forgotten Realms

Shadowbred, by Paul S. Kemp

Shadowstorm, by Paul S. Kemp

Realms of War, Anthology edited by Philip Athans

Shadowrealm, by Paul S. Kemp

Dragons: World Afire - Anthology

Depths of Madness, by Erik Scott deBie

Frostfell, by Mark Sehestedt

The Howling Delve, by Jaleigh Johnson
Neversfall, by Ed Gentry

Crypt of the Moaning Diamond, by Rosemary Jones

Swordmage, by Richard Baker

Shadowbred, by Paul S. Kemp

In Shadowbred, the first book of the Twilight War Trilogy, Sembia is falling into civil war. Erevis Cale returns to Selgaunt, after a year since the events in the Erevis Cale Trilogy, to help House Uskreven and find a friend. He must come to grips with his destiny and his past while rooting out the dark powers behind Sembia's decline.

In this first book, Erevis Cale is back and Paul expertly pulls the reader into the emotional turmoil of the main character. A host of antagonists make there way into this novel, and their descriptions, their personalities, and their little quirks are made so very personable by Paul's ability to clearly set up and describe character.

Paul has woven a marvelous story whose continuity stretches across multiple books (including Realms novels published by other authors) and events, yet is not dependant upon those stories to be enjoyed. Many moments in the book leave one feeling that there is even more going on than what's presented and a sense of almost knowing what those other events are drives one to continue reading - even at odd hours of the night.

The plot is very easy to follow, it's simply laid out, but achieving the plot is what makes this book so outstanding. This is definitely a book in which the path or the journey is the point, not the ending. It ends with one wishing desperately that time travel was available (even now, one day after finishing the novel, I'm fiending to have to the next book!).

This book is definitely fast paced, not necessarily because it is full of action but because everything is so fluid that moving from one chapter to the next becomes timeless. Though, there are parts in the book which are written in first person perspective and it's rather jarring to be carried along on a hypnotic ride through several scenes then suddenly be thrown into this first person narrative. Overall though, the use of it isn't disruptive to the story.

Characters from previous stories, including Erevis, that make an appearance in one shape or another, are depicted just as perfectly as they had been in others, making them akin to a friend you haven't seen or talked to in a year. The new characters - and some of the old ones too - maintain a consistent attitude and personality throughout, and even provide some exciting surprises.

I've been a fan of the Realms since I first started collecting the novels in 1988, and this is definitely one series I'd beseech Mask, the Realms' God of Thieves, to guide me as I gather minions to raid the publishing house for copies of the next two books! I'd love to see Rowling supplanted by devoted Realms, Erevis, and Paul Kemp fans who just NEED the next book.

No question about it, 11 out of 10 stars!

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Shadowstorm, by Paul S. Kemp

Shadowstorm, by Paul S. Kemp, is book two of the Forgotten Realm’s Twilight War Trilogy. This story tells of the opening of Sembia’s civil war and of Erevis Cale’s plight in the Plane of Shadow. It continues where the first book leaves off with not a change in style, tone, or pace. It brings the reader immediately into the story and never lets go.

Erevis Cale, assassin and priest of Mask, seeks to recover a part of the god of thieves’ divinity from an exiled being. The journey across the Plane of Shadow to find answers to their quest engages Erevis, his partner and fellow priest Riven, and compatriot Magadon, to the plane’s even darker corners. The quest gets increasingly dangerous and desperate, especially so for Magadon whose very soul is at stake.

Sembia is split as civil war begins to destroy the realm. Tamlin Uskevren, the lord of Selgaunt, must decide how to save his city and his people from the war, and must confront his own conscience and desires that will ultimately decide the fate of his city.

Shadowstorm is utter beauty. The way Paul Kemp is able to weave the story between the light and the darkness of all the moving parts of this story is masterful and captivating, and perfectly sets the mood and tone that draws the reader into the powerful world of shadows. Each scene is fluid and easily carries the reader along a fast paced and nearly overwhelming ride.

The author brilliantly avoids the “center book” failings of many trilogies by crafting this tale in complete harmony with the main story while capturing its own unique tale. This book is fully engaging and even more exciting than the first novel, though that doesn’t reduce the power of Book One, Shadowbred. Paul increases the tension and drama as if the story had never been broken into separate books, with action scenes that are layered in emotion, such as desperation, vengeance, and anger. This book is nearly impossible to put down and if having to do so leaves the reader with panicky, yearning symptoms of withdrawal.

The showdown with Kesson Rel, the exiled lord, is rapturous. I read that whole scene so fast and was so fully involved I didn’t even notice time or the world around me. The experience of that scene was akin to the previous book’s detailed account of Erevis’ encounter with his god. The battle of Selgaunt – both the physical war and Tamlin’s personal fight - was woven in spectacular drama as many parts of the story came together and set the stage for the next and final book.

The places in which the book took on a first person narrative were few and far between, and no longer were they jarring like in the first book. Those moments weren’t nearly as revealing as in the first book either but it made sense why as the tale unfolded.

With Shadowstorm I have become a believer in Erevis Cale as a solid character and a devout follower of Paul Kemp. There can be no rating scale to blaspheme the perfection of this book and trilogy. Pick it up, enjoy it, and never put it down; you will become a convert to the shadows. Welcome brothers and sisters, may the shadows guide you.

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Realms of War Anthology, edited by Philip Athans

Over all, I liked the stories in this anthology as they highlighted some interesting aspects of many of the Realms’ wars, with a bulk of the stories taking place in more recent times. As a whole, this anthology is well done and was definitely worth the read. The best part of this book, though, is the sampling of new authors, such as Susan J. Morris, Mark Sehestedt, and Jaleigh Johnson. Of course, the heavy hitters contribute some amazing tales, like Elaine Cunningham, R.A. Salvatore, and Mel Odom (whom I thought long gone from the Realms a while ago).

This anthology is based upon the backdrop of the recent events told by Paul S. Kemp of a Shadow War that is currently unfolding in the Realms. Reviewing all the stories will take a lot space and time so I will only highlight them rather than go in depth. As I said, the whole book is great to add to another collection and truly reveals the talents of so many of the authors.

Continuum, by Paul S. Kemp, is another fine tale spun out of Paul’s miracle fabric of characterization. This story spotlight’s an aspect of the Shadow War Paul is currently telling and certainly reveals his talent in bringing the Realms into succinct reality with his penchant for creating such believable characters, even gods. In this story, I did feel a little rushed in some way but I attribute it the tone of the story in which Erevis Cale’s girlfriend (for lack of a better term) is suddenly roused by a horrific storm happening in distance Sembia but spreading in her direction. As she tries to escape, she finds another group of refugees trying to get away and joins them. She meets an interesting stranger who not only saves her from the storm but protects her from unknown enemies.

Lisa Smedman’s Weasel’s Run is fun story with a tragic ending. Not revealing spoiler information but as with all stories of war happy endings are a rarity. But, her story shows how humanity can certainly have an effect on one’s principles and attitude. The tone was lighthearted but somber, fast paced but not hectic and it crammed some solid characterization into the story’s short amount of space. Very nice!

The Last Paladin of Ilmater, by Susan J. Morris, was an enjoyable plot driven story. The characters revealed themselves well enough but I didn’t feel I saw real change in them and very much depth. The story was very good though, and I certainly look forward to more of Morris’s contribution to the Realms. What I liked most about the story was how Susan revealed the paladin’s downfall. This concept should resonate on many different levels to readers. It has a definite religious feel to it, after all it is about a paladin, but the unfolding story shows how we each can learn from failure. I enjoyed reading this though it may have been just a little slow in places.

The Black Arrow is a great story, yet I felt robbed at the same time. Bruce Cordell tells about an adolescent boy whose influential mother prevents him from participating in the city’s war, or least far from any danger. The boy ends up finding himself in the right place at the right time and shirks his mother’s warning about staying out of the way. He is sent by an unwitting soldier to bring a message to a forward deployed force, of which the boy’s hero is leading. A tower was recently taken by the enemy and the boy helps his hero and his warrior aunt to take the tower, revealing a hidden path his friends used. In the end the boy is the one who saves the city by bringing a very important missive back to the General. This story is great in its pace and action while capturing the boy’s point of view. What bothered me was that Bruce didn’t reveal what happened to the boy that caused the story to end the way it did (or, actually, begin as it did. Frustrating, but still very enjoyable

Ed Greenwood’s Too Many Princes is the great disappointment of this anthology. Ed brought me into the Realms and helps keep the Realms a wonderful place to spend my time, but this story, as with most of his more recent tales, is a flop. It starts off great and even keeps me entertained until near the end. I was expecting this early tale of Mirt the Moneylender to figure some creative and clever way out if his predicament, which seemed to become worse by the minute. I had fun watching the characters fall further and further into the trap and wondered how this was going to turn out. Then, in true Greenwood style, apparently, he brings in his ‘McGuffin’ who saves the day and leaves such a nasty taste in my mouth. I actually had to leave the rest of the book alone for a day or two just to get over my nausea. If I told you to rip these pages out of the book then this anthology would definitely be five stars.

After overcoming the dysentery that was the previous story, I was inspired to delve deeper into this book thanks to Jess Lebow and the story, The Siege of Zerith Hold. This was the story that Ed’s should have been. The two main characters in this story find themselves, and the soldiers they lead, besieged in a keep by two vast tribes of goblins. The situation becomes worse as one section of the keep is finally overcome by worgs and their goblin riders. This certainly builds tension as the two leaders realize their only hope is to leave the keep and cut through a sea of goblins in order to kill the goblin leader. This story had me anxious to see how it ends and didn’t let me down. Good story!

Mercy’s Reward is Mark Sehestedt’s tale of a Cormyrean running for his life during the Tuigan Crusade, bringing us back to the region he revealed in his book Frostfell. The Cormyrean escaped the Khan’s force and is on the run. Hiding from the horselords, he is hunted day and night and soon finds himself near exhaustion, dehydration, and starvation. He stumbles upon a wolf caught in a trap and decides to free the wolf rather than kill it for food, knowing he was probably going to die anyway. Deciding he’d rather not die by the Khan’s men. He ends up as prisoner to a vile shapechanger but is ultimately saved by the horselords. The story reveals an interesting twist that reveals some great characterization and how honor can find its way into the hearts of enemies.

Elaine Cunningham brings us back to Elaith Craulnabor in her story, Redemption. This tragic hero has found himself at peace and has attained a certain satisfaction with his life. But, true to fashion, nothing stays that way for long. A cry for help from elves in the Wealdath Forest brings to light the truth behind who Elaith is and why he cannot become the elf he really wants to be. Understanding the mission, he accepts because he knows that to do what needs to be done he is the only noble elf that can do the job. This story is written very well and vaildates why Elaine has written for the Realms for as long as she has.

Changing Tides, by Mel Odom, was a good tale that returns the readers to the War of Sahuagin. Mel tells about an adventurer-historian who is searching for a sunken ship and its manifest and diary. Sea elves find him in their territory and only by agreeing to a percentage of any treasure on the ship does he get out his predicament. He is also able to enlist the aid of the elves in searching the sunken wreck. Suddenly under sahuagin attack, the elves and the historian retreat to the historian’s hired vessel. While fighting for their lives they bond with each other and agree to help each other until their return to port. This story reveals how key decisions can have an impact on unforeseen events. Definitely a good read and the pacing was just right.

Jaleigh Johnson tells us a grim story of a soldier who wants to die. In Chasing the Dark, a loner scout who is ostracized by his countrymen for fear of his magic is compelled to accomplish suicide missions as a way of redeeming himself through death. His superior forces him to accompany another soldier and a priest to investigate a recent massacre. He receives additional instructions that place the lives of two soldiers in his hands. Not wanting to die guilty of two other deaths he accepts the responsibility, but a sudden twist at the end reveals the scout as a true hero. Jaleigh reveals that it might not be as cracked up as everyone makes it.

Bones and Stones, by R.A. Salvatore, doesn’t even need to have a review. Salvatore just doesn’t quit when it comes to telling compelling stories with excellent characterization, drama, and action. Everything comes into play during the Orc Campaign of Mithral Hall. Salvatore reveals how both races, dwarves and orcs, have more in common than either would admit. But it also shows that orcs have a certain presence that cannot be denied and to understand that may be the key to save each of their people. Such a powerful story that reveals so much in so little space. Plus, you can’t beat a story with Thibbledorf Pwent as the lead.

Finally, Richard Lee Byers story, Second Chance, introduces the readers to the events taking place in his Haunted Lands Trilogy. The story of a young man who deserts his temple and is caught by the enemy is given his ‘second chance’ to overcome the cowardice within him. With the aid of a mysterious stranger the man is able to save his temple from the siege by a local Thayan force. Characterization is key here as we delve into the reasons why the man deserted and what he has to do to save his friends and masters. This story moves rather quickly but you don’t notice it, but more importantly the young man seems to mature before your eyes into a hero that he never would have been. Excellent!

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Shadowrealm, by Paul S. Kemp

Shadowrealm is Paul S. Kemp's final book in the Twilight War trilogy and brings together the multiple plots and subplots intricately woven throughout each book. The Twilight War trilogy details the happenings in the Sembia region of the Forgotten Realms fantasy world with regard to the Shadovar and the power of the Shadowstorm established in the first two books, Shadowbred and Shadowstorm.

Cale and Riven find themselves in a very difficult situation in which they must stop the Shadowstorm from consuming the land and quite possibly all of Faerun, saving those they care about, including a friend whose soul resides in the hands of an arch devil, and protecting the citizens of Sembia from the powerful Shadovar. Sembia's civil war must come to a stop and with an evil force looming destruction may be the only outcome.

In Shadowrealm, Paul S. Kemp completes his amazing tale in such a fast paced, unrelenting style that the reader becomes hopelessly enthralled in the story. I enjoyed this book immensely and could not put it down, flipping page after page, ignorant of the passing of time. His characters are beautifully rendered, fully three-dimensional and believable. His attention to detail is superb. Kemp also wrote two short stories contained elsewhere – which are not required to enjoy this tale - but he easily weaves the dramatic content of those two short stories into this trilogy and seamlessly enriches the entire tale.

Throughout the trilogy many storylines were combined into a dazzling tapestry and Kemp's ability to maintain not only consistency but overall purpose attests to his immense skill at storytelling. There were only two copy-edit typos that are slightly confusing at first only because they disrupt the rhythm just for that moment, they being instances of incorrect character mentioning.

Overall, a marvelous conclusion to a great trilogy. I'm anxious for the next series from Paul S. Kemp, expected in 2010 in order to see how he furthers the epic story of Erevis Cale. Shadowrealm, due for release on December 2nd, is must have, and if any readers have yet to indulge the first two books then now is the time to get settled in for a dark and fantastic tale.

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Dragons: World Afire (Anthology)

I've been a fan of the Forgotten Realms since the beginning and the main reason I purchased this book was for the short story by R.A. Salvatore. I wanted to add this story to my collection of Realms novels and stories.

The book itself is very nice; the artwork inside is elaborate, the one story I did read was very well put together with respect to the style and feel of the whole book and made for an entertaining and quick read.

If one enjoys the other worlds, and I know I'll get around to reading the other stories soon, this is very good book to have. It features long standing authors of the worlds: R.A. Salvatore for the Realms, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman for Dragonlance, Keith Baker, founder of Eberron, and Scott Mcgough of Magic: The Gathering. The overall design of the book, from cover to cover, is wonderful and should be included in any collection of shared world fiction.

I certainly appreciate the purchase.

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Depths of Madness by Erik S. deBie

Depths of Madness, by Erik Scott de Bie, is the first book of the Forgotten Realms' new series called The Dungeons and is a deranged tale of seven strangers awaking to find themselves trapped in an ancient ruin. The strangers do not recall how they arrived in the dungeon, and worse none of them can be trusted. Erik brings back the mysterious thief Twilight, a character introduced in an earlier short story (a story this book is not dependant upon), and throws her in with six other intriguing personalities. Among the group is a power hungry, devil worshipping warlock; an eccentric halfling whose mysteries may even rival Twilight's; a noble elven priestess and her aged human husband, a wizard of no small measure; a quiet, brooding goliath; and an enigmatic swordsman.

The group must band together despite all the personality friction in order to escape a dungeon whose very walls shift, closing and opening passages in chaotic fashion. Dangers lurk in front of and behind the strangers as two competing entities vie for control over the oblivious group. Evil fiends, an unrelenting troll, magical constructs, and even simple hunger remain constant obstacles to the small band, but the deadliest obstacle of all is themselves.

Erik has thrown together a terrific tale that has the reader turning each page in hopes of acquiring small measure of release from the tension. Bits of comedy keep the pace from getting too strained though it provides very little reprieve from the character's engaging situation. Characters reveal themselves little by little, enlightening the reader with tidbits of information to keep them guessing at what's really happening.

Erik's style is not fluffy with involving descriptions, it's fast paced and hard edged with the focus on the interactions of the characters and their environment. His handling of tension and stress do not falter even as the characters walk the fine line between the rational and the irrational.

The story is very engrossing, even when the mundane issues of being lost in a labyrinthine ruin come to play. I would prefer to have seen more of the characters reactions to just being underground along with having little resources than the myriad of encounters they experience. The problems of being underground, in the dark with walls pressing in everywhere, as well as the severe distrust and need for each other is more than most personalities can bare, but throw in the issue of depleted resources and the strength of self-preservation and that is one dangerous story. Aside from the more in depth psychological aspects that aren't well fleshed out, the story is very enjoyable.

The tale is well done and carries the reader through to the surprising end. The reader will, of course, make their own judgments and opinions of the characters but no matter they will still be caught unaware when the story unfolds. I recommend picking this up for good read and interesting conversation afterward.

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Frostfell by Mark Sehestedt

Mark Sehestedt's Frostfell is one book of a series of stand alone novels called "The Wizards". It's a gripping story about a Cormyrian Warwizard and her adopted son set in the Endless Wastes long after the Tuigan invasion. For Realm's fan this area is brought to amazing life by Mark's style of description and grasp of the scenery.

As the last survivor of a small village, Jalan is found among the wreckage by Amira, a Warwizard tasked to care for the child. Amira ultimately becomes attached to the boy and comes to think of him as her own, little realizing the history of his heritage. When a cadre of sorcerer's kidnap the child, she enlists the aid of Gyaidun and Lendri, blood brothers and exiles of a remote elven tribe, as well Kwarun, the tribe's shaman.

The boy's bloodline holds a story and secret that the group unravels as they give chase to the kidnappers. Amira, as a foreigner in the Wastes, comes to learn more about the history of the land and people that live there and ultimately accept and embrace her role in it's unraveling.

Mark's description of the cold, empty vastness of this region leaves the reader with goose bumps and a sense of desolation. His method of showing this region is palpable as he weaves his story around the backdrop of the land. The characters are rich in complexity and his seamless control of the "foreign-ness" of Amira in this region is perfect.

The story is primarily told from Amira's point of view and Mark captures the communication differences in the dialogue wonderfully. The learning experiences between Amira and the others are fascinating as they struggle to understand one another. Mark's ability to maintain an intense pacing whilst the characters are forced to interact and save the child are amazing. Many times the reader is caught up in the middle of the character's frustrations and anger and then relieves the pressure by providing leaps of progress in the character's interactions.

The story itself is very well thought out and the plot balanced between lore and character with no distinction of the two. As a Realm's fan and reader there is a lot of showcased material in this story but to enjoy the book on its own does not require background information. This was a strong tale and it holds its own weight even without the background knowledge.

A wonderful and enjoyable story to add to any fantasy collection.

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The Howling Delve, by Jaleigh Johnson

The Howling Delve, second book of the Dungeons series, by Jaleigh Johnson is a story of vengeance. The story is set in the Forgotten Realms wizard-hating of Amn and follows Kall, a powerful gem merchant’s son who escapes the bloody betrayal of his father’s guard captain. After stumbling through a magical portal Kall finds himself in the midst of a digging camp led by a dwarven priest. A parallel story tells of an orphan named Meisha, who is taken in by a curious wizard that discovers her latent talent in fire magic. She becomes a Harper agent and fire elemantalist bent on vengeance also, for the murder of another agent. Both Kall and Meisha find homes in their respective situations and grow to become strong characters.

Meisha and Kall meet when Kall tries to return to his father but finds him completely wasted away in both mind and spirit. Meisha arrives on the scene and attempts to kill his father for murdering a Harper agent during the captain’s betrayal. Kall pursues vengeance against the guard captain and Meisha reluctantly follows suit.

The Dungeon series is meant to elaborate on particular Realms lore, in this case an ancient, underground dwarven stronghold that holds a dark secret. The story is well done and fluid. It’s full of fast paced action and great characterization as it reveals more and more of this ancient complex. The characters themselves are well done and make sense, feeling lifelike and plausible, even the villains and side characters.

Jaleigh’s word usage and style are a delight to experience; the rhythm of her writing carries the reader through the entire novel marvelously. In fact, her rhythm carried me through several pages before I realized I noticed an inconsistency. It may have been implied from the beginning of the story and was mistakenly forgotten to remind the readers later on. It wasn't something that would drive the reader nuts over though. As I said, her rhythm is wonderful and is very smooth. You only stop to realize how much you’ve read when you have to put the book down to use the restroom.

Aside from the two issues above I enjoyed the book immensely. It ended on a most exciting note, one in which I hope Wizards of the Coast allows her to explore – it certainly has the makings of giving the Shadow Thieves of Amn a much needed remodeling, in my opinion.I am most anxious for her to return to the Realms and tell more tales. A great book, a fast read, and an enjoyable way to idle away the time!

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Neversfall, by Ed Gentry

Neversfall is the Forgotten Realm’s first book of a stand alone series called The Citadels and is great novel that really delves into revealing how multiple perspectives can all still be valid. Ed Gentry shows three different, law-faring societies interacting and how each can see itself as valid, meaning that no single ‘truth’ is correct. In the book Neversfall, a small contingent of soldiers called Maquar hail from a country whose organization is the pinnacle of the Southern region’s excellence. Joining up with an allied country’s small force of soldiers, the Duprari pale in comparison to the regimented military of the Maquar. Still, the Duprari are cohesive in their structure and are rightfully respected by their counterparts.

Adeenya, leader of the Duprari, studied long and hard to become a Maquar but found that she was unable to join their ranks. Undaunted, she joined the Duprari and succeeded, though she still longs for knowing life as a Maquar. Jhoqo is the Maquar General who is in charge of the shared mission to seek out and recover the lost keep of Neversfall. Jhoqo seems, at times, to have his own agenda and is rather impersonal to everyone, with exception of his adopted son Taennen, who is his second in command. Taennen is a very lawful individual who, at a young age, turned his own father in to authorities for a crime the man unwittingly committed. Adopted by Jhoqo and educated by the Maquar, Taennen is a highly responsible yet somewhat cowed second.

During the mission, the two forces are traveling to Neversfall and are attacked by a fearless mob of humanoids and beasts. The mob is under the control of a strict, organized society of creatures called Formians – giant, intelligent, and psionically-endowed ant beings. After defeating the Formians and taking prisoners, including the ant creatures themselves, the force continues for the lost keep.

Finding the keep abandoned, the force takes control and are suddenly attacked by wildmen who perform hit and run tactics on the soldiers. As the book continues things seem to become confusing to the characters, which in turn raise questions that are mired in deceit and intrigue.

Ed Gentry provides the readers with strong characters whose motivations are clear, but embroiled in the story are layers of interesting points of view that all seem to contradict one another and yet prove equally correct. Finding what truth to accept shakes the foundations of the characters, forcing them to develop before our eyes. As the book reveals more and more of itself, readers will find themselves just as engaged in finding the truth as the characters.

The plot is pretty straight forward, travel to Neversfall and take control of the keep. But, somewhere, the political and personal intrigue sets the stage for a nightmare stand off of murder and deceit. The pitfalls of organized, lawful societies are shown in marked contrast with each perspective proving right. Ed amazingly compels the reader to make their own assumptions only to have them dashed as revisions must be accepted.

In all, the book was well devised, but a little slow at times, yet was engrossing enough for the reader to push through. The characters are very strong, though they didn’t resonate with me personally, and certainly believable. I enjoyed reading this and wholeheartedly recommend others to indulge in this excellent story.

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Crypt of the Moaning Diamond, by Rosemary Jones

Crypt of the Moaning Diamond is the fourth book of the Forgotten Realms’ stand alone series called The Dungeons; Depths of Madness, The Howling Delve, and Stardeep being the other three. In this book, Rosemary Jones tells an adventurous story about a little group of mercenaries called the Seigebreakers, whose good natured interest lies in tearing down fortifications.

In this novel, a force of orcs and hobgoblins has taken control of the city Tsurlagol, a city that has been built and rebuilt so many times the local history has lost count. Beseeched by Tsurlagol, the nearby king of Procampur has begun a campaign to aid their neighbor and take back the city. The king hires the Seigebreakers to find a way into the city that the Procampur army can use to rout the goblinkin.

Ivy, the leader of the mercenary band, develops a plan to bring down a wall by digging beneath and collapsing it. Her band of mercenaries consists of a half orc warrioress, a Genasi mage (a half water elemental), a Teifling rogue (a devil spawn), a dwarf, and dog named Wiggles. Their plot to take down the wall involves using the Genasi’s gift with water magic by flooding the foundation to weaken it. To do this the mage draws water from a nearby underground river and diverts it using her magic. Overseeing the mercenary’s work is a Procampur knight who seems to be the paragon of polite society.

Due to the nature of their plan, the ground of the dig site collapses sending the Seigebreakers and knight into the river below. After breaking free of the water and regrouping they find themselves stranded underground with a river fast rising around them and no way to control it. They soon discover that Tsurlagol’s history isn’t gone, just hidden deep beneath the current city.

Rosemary Jones’ tale is more fun adventure than dark horror, as I was assuming the story would be. She still weaves an action filled, exciting story around great dialogue. Interspersed are some comedic moments and several gripping scenes where the characters get into bad to worse situations.

The story was great fun to read. Her mastery of good dialogue is wonderful and is kind of a breath of fresh air. This is definitely a high fantasy, dungeon crawl and does not falter in its delivery. She keeps the story moving between fast and faster as the characters are stuck in a dilemma that presents very little options. Each character has their own little personalities that make for compelling depth and allows the reader to find the one character they identify with.

Negative comments regarding this story are very few. The first being I expected more of a horrific story with very dark undertones. Not so, but I got over it quickly and enjoyed the book after easily getting into the story. The second being that it ended in a manner much different than I expected, like it just suddenly let go of the tension building desperation it gathered. The ending itself was entertaining and even though it was sort of anticlimactic in their escape from the dungeon, Rosemary Jones still told a fantastic story.

I’d recommend this to those who want an easy and fun read and enjoy the more adventure, sword and sorcery type tales. A keeper to be sure, just don’t expect to be brought into a scary, dark tale of deadly survival. Entertaining!

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Swordmage, by Richard Baker

Richard Baker's "The Swordmage" is the first book of the Blades of the Moonsea trilogy, which takes place in the Dungeons & Dragons' Forgotten Realms world. This is the first novel utilizing the new fourth edition rules introduced during the course of this year.

The story takes place approximately one hundred years after the Realms event called The Spellplague, which is the method used to introduce the changes to the rule set. It is set in the Northern Moonsea in a growing and thriving town called Hulburg. Geran, the main character, is a human swordmage who studied magic and swordplay from the elves in Myth Drannor and is the nephew of the town's leader, the Harmach. After ten years away from home, Geran receives a letter stating that his childhood friend had died. He returns to pay his respects and makes sure that his friend's estate and family are taken care of and not ruined by the loss.

Traveling with Geran is a halfling named Hamil, a good friend from his earlier adventuring days and his business partner. Upon returning to Hulburg Geran notices the many changes in the city, not all of them positive. A run-in with a nefarious slave trading gang in his city sets Geran off to find out what has happened while he was away. Little by little Geran learns that the situation in Hulburg has gone down hill while leaving the Harmach powerless to do anything about it.

Meanwhile, brewing in the plains far north of Hulburg a mysterious warlock makes a deal with an orc chieftain to raise an army. This army soon begins marching south to take control of the lands around them with Hulburg in its path. Geran also discovers the reason behind his friend's death and investigates the opening and robbing of sacred barrows located near the town.

Political intrigue, an advancing army, and leadership strife within the town establish a story rife with possibility, and seeing how this is the first of three books, we can only watch and see how Mr. Baker can weave the elements together to complete the trilogy.

Overall, this was a good book. I enjoyed reading it and was interested in following the story. The setting was very well done and the Mr. Baker weaves some interesting subplots around the whole story arc. The characers kept my interest and the pacing was very nicely controlled. I liked the escape scene from Griffonwatch, it contained plenty of action and suspense.

Regarding the characters though, I believe this story could have used more intimacy with the spotlighted characters. They were good but the narrative felt a little more distanced than I think it should have been. I would have enjoyed the story to be just a slightly bit more cerebral and emotionally involved. Again, the characters were done well but I think as a reader it would've made for more involvement.

**Info for Realms fans below**

As an avid Realms fan, my big disappointment regarding this particular book, which I must add was my expectation going in, was the introduction of the "new and improved" Forgotten Realms world. After all the readings and hintings and discussions going on regarding the big changes in the world - and I'm not up-to-the-minute involved with those discussions - I went in expecting something much different, much more than the adventure Richard Baker takes us on. Information regarding the death of Mystra, the goddess of magic, and the disruption of her weave, the impact of Shar's efforts leading up to the Spellplague, the rearrangement of the gods and their portfolios, and the sundering of Abeir with Toril (or however it's described), all of these events leading up to this new era seemed to be nothing but a minor cosmetic change in this book.

What struck me most in my expectation was the mere side comments regarding Changelands and a quick observation of a particular gods return/change - Lathander back to Amaunator, not to mention the spell-scarred, which seemed only a new variety of feat, like tattoo feats, rather than something more central to the events. This is still a Realms novel and everything acted, behaved, and read the same as before this Realms changing event. I was expecting a darker, more strife ridden Realms. A world where danger seemed more suffused with the common, less sword and sorcery and more tragic/gothic/sinister tales which would provide a much stronger contrast for heroics or anti-heroes.

Paul S. Kemp's telling of the events leading up to the Spellplague in the Twilight War trilogy leave one expecting the new Realms tone and mood to have this flavor of the dark and foul, similar in concept to Eberron's overall theme of a war ravaged world, where the effects and consequences of this theme are somewhat inherent to the stories taking place.

Anyway, once I let go of my expectations the book was good, well told, and enjoyable, but I am somewhat leary of seeing what comes out of this new edition regarding these novels and short stories, especially if this is the ground floor the other books will be based on. For fans of the Realms, I would offer a warning to suspend whatever ideas you have going in and enjoy another tale told in the world you know and love. To everyone else, I do recommend reading this story, it is good quick read and has enough going on to keep you interested and entertained.