Apr 062014
 

alchemist_revengeBy Paco Garcia Jaen

The Alchemist’s Revenge is the first novel by Peter Cakebread, one half of the team Cakebread and Walton, fine purveyors of Role Playing Games, namely Clockwork and Chivalry, Pirates and Dragons, Renaissance and Airship Pirates.

This novel is based on the universe of Clockwork and Chivalry, a dark time in England’s 17th century, with a civil war raging and the forces of clockwork battling against the forces of magic and alchemy. Royalists fight and battle Parliamentarians and they occupy the land our heroes, reluctant as they might be, must traverse.

When a grieving widow hires a disgruntled and bitter mercenary to accompany her to the grave of her late husband, a journey that should be simple enough becomes plagued with more dangers they could have all expected. Reunited with old friends and stalked by ruthless enemies and a very dark past, they band together to overcome challenges that are, quite frankly, terrifying. Like the whole setting actually is.

This book is published by Delta 14 Publishing and, at least the book I received, is a print on demand version. The softback has been very, very well bound, no pages will come off that book anytime soon, I must say. The cover is thick enough and the paper is a little bit on the thin side, but it won’t tear when you flip the pages.

Let’s get out of the way the only thing about this book that’s not all that great. It’s not bad, but it’s not great: The art direction and graphic design. Yes, believe it or not, novels also use graphic design. The cover, although is attractive enough, it doesn’t really give away much about the novel, the setting or anything. If you saw this book in a bookshelf in a library, you’d have no idea what’s like. Again, is not bad looking, but it’s not great.

The interior also lacks of a bit of TLC. Although the font is big enough, it needs a bit more space to breathe around the page. The numbers and title of the book is a bit too close together for my liking, and a bit more separation between paragraphs wouldn’t go amiss. Once the eye gets used to it, the book is easy enough to read, but it takes a few pages to get the eye trained to follow the lines and it can be irritating for the first few pages.

Thank goodness those little niggles don’t last long as the story quickly drives you in and you just want to know what happens next. Even though the plot is not epic and it seems quite simple from the start, the pace is well set since the beginning and the plot twists are interesting enogh without being mind boggling. It doesn’t start too quickly and Cakebread doesn’t spare any effort to describe the environments to give a clear picture of what’s going on and where. From the point of view of someone who lives in England (that’d be me) it is lovely to see the description of pubs and locations that still echo in the walls of buildings and streets to this day. There is a sense of familiarity and enough richness in the prose to allow you to imagine the locations rather vividly. A huge plus for me!

The characters also take some time to fall into place and the best bit about them is that the don’t try to be likeable. They all have their own agenda and personalities, including their own reasons to be there, and they stick to them, even if that makes them look stupid, selfish or arrogant. The author hasn’t tried to soften the attitude of anyone just to make you like them. And yet, as you get to know the characters, almost without realising you can understand the true reasons behind their reactions, you can see behind the mask while the other characters stay with the surface. Very cleverly done!

Throughout the whole book there’s a feeling of tension; an unease sensation that come from the fact that the protagonists can’t relax. Every person they cross can be a foe, everything they do can turn against them and every location is unsafe. And yet it’s perfectly congruous with the war environment. I can see the 17th century being something very similar to this.

The fantastic elements are also there and in good measure. I mean this in all the senses of the expression. There is plenty of Alchemy and Clockwork and there are a lot of questions that are left unanswered about both areas. This is probably the one thing I can imagine would frustrate some people. As much as we are all used to the idea of Magic in fantasy setting, mechanical wonders are less common and this book doesn’t offer anything on its origins or ideas on how the work. There’s a some  interaction between the heroes and some clockwork designers and the door into that room is ajar, so you can see a bit, but not enough to lift the mystery. The magic is catered for as one of the characters is a magic wielder and she manages to pull some punches very nicely thanks to it.

This is very much a roleplaying game adventure novel. If you are familiar with role playing games, you’ll easily see yourself around a table rolling your dice as the adventure progresses, and you’ll probably want to run this novel as an adventure too. From that point of view is perfect.

This novel is also brutal. There’s plenty of violence, plenty of gore and plenty of unpleasantness. This is not a fluffy pink novel. At all. This is not to say that the author rejoices in it, just that it doesn’t shy away and tells it how it is.

Conclusion

I must admit that at the start I had difficulties getting into the book because of the weak layout, however a few pages in I found myself enjoying this book a lot. The drama and tension are very high and keep you gripped very tightly as events unravel.

Though the plot is not demanding (at all) the author’s knowledge of the whole universe is such that describing the right elements to get you interested comes very naturally. Most importantly, what he describes is, somehow, familiar and it’s easy to “see” what’s going on. It’s a world so full of adventure you can see the possibilities.

I do wish the publisher had a more cohesive art direction between the book and the game itself. I think that linking both lines of product visually would go a long way to help people buy the other. At the very least, get a cover artwork that is more consistent with the contents of the book.

The best bit is that this novel leaves you wanting to play the game it’s based on. Maybe that’s because I like RPGs so much and I can see the RPG adventure elements in this novel that it attracts me so much, or maybe that’s because the world this is set in is very inviting and interesting from all angles. I don’t know… the fact is that it makes me want to be a part of it, and that has to count for something.  And now I want to read more, so I hope there are more coming.

Recommended book and one that promises a great future for this author!

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Feb 132014
 

Death_Mark_NovelBy Paco Garcia Jaen

This D&D novel was published by Wizards of the Coast in 2011 and was written by Robert J Schwalb  in 2011. Yeah… I’m a bit late on this one. I should have got hold of it a long time ago.

I absolutely adore Dark Sun. It was the first D&D setting I actually got to master and it was so far out from anything else that was going on at the time – and the time is 1994 when is was released in Spain – that I was captivated from the moment go.

I read the Prism Pentad novels avidly and I re-read them not four years ago. Then I read the newer novels. I wasn’t impressed, I’m sorry to say.

You see, Dark Sun is meant to be a truly horrible and brutal world. One that would make Westeros a cozy place. The novels I’ve read didn’t convey that. They offer a rather sanitised version of Athas that I felt belonged more in a Disney production than an HBO, if you know what I mean. So when I found this novel, I bought it out of inertia more than anything else. Yes, the author’s name was encouraging, but then that’s never any guarantee.

When I started to read, though, I started to change my mind pretty much as soon as my eyes hit the pages. Much to my surprise!

The plot takes place one year after the events in the Prism Pentad. King Kalak has been defeated and Tithian has been crowned king in Tyr. The city is in turmoil as it tries to shift from slavery to a free society and the merchant houses, unsettled by the loss of earnings and the threat of invasion from Urik, decide to take matters into their own hands and various plans are conceived to take over the commerce and government of the city, including the tremendously profitable iron mines, now closed. The roles of the characters introduced throughout the novel and the seemingly disconnected actions of all the parts slowly come closer together.

It is difficult for me to tell you much about the plot without giving away key clues and I really don’t want to spoil this one. It’s too good to do that, so please bear with me. Also I can’t help but comparing this novel with the previously published ones. Sorry. Can’t help it because Death Mark is miles ahead from any other novel published before.

The characters, without going into any existentialist essays in the book, are actually really, *really* well crafted. Most of them have perfectly credible motivations and great personalities; they are congruous. That is, they react as you’d expect a character like them to react. The former gladiator is a killing machine; he might not like killing, but he does so, does it well and has the reactions you’d expect from a gladiator brutish, to the point and struggling to keep up with mind-games. The self-centred defiler works to better his plans and status and will step over anyone to achieve that goal, even if his actions put the health of the city at risk.

The best way I can think to describe how the novel is structure is this: most novels feel like they narrate how an adventuring party is out and about on missions and tasks, just like your gaming group does when you get together to play. There is one group of people and they drive the plot. This novel, though, takes several adventuring parties and sets them away from each other, each one with their own adventure to follow. Slowly, as time advances and events unravel, their paths start to converge and, eventually, most of them come to see they were all going in the same direction from different starting points.

The cast of characters is well balanced and there are villains and heroes in both genders. There are strong women and weak men. There are ruthless men and women and there are weak women and strong men. Schwalb doesn’t hold back on that front. Or any other, for that matter.

The novel is pretty hefty at 304 pages with fairly small font, and no description is spared. The fabrics in the markets, the leather armour worn by warriors, the tunics of wizards, smells, textures, spells… Everything is looked into and everything is given to the reader uncompromisingly.

Also no compromise is reached when is about the brutality of the land and its people, though, and that is a good thing. Unless you don’t like graphic descriptions of gore, violence and the unpleasantness of human (and other races) nature. Make no mistake; this novel could give any of the Game of Thrones series a run for their blood. From the quick death by beheading to the struggle to kill another gladiator in the arena with multiple blows, if a detail needs to be there, the author makes sure is there in exquisite detail.

Same goes for the ways of the land. Halflings are unpleasant and untrustworthy – at last a proper Athasian halfling! – and elves are far from the noble race we’re used to; just as they should be in Athas. And magic is lethal; properly and really lethal. And yet, there’s so much of it!

This is possibly the only thing about this novel that has taken me aback a bit. There’s barely any psionic activity. The Way is almost absent. Although I can understand it would add yet another element to follow, add even more material to the book and make it even more complicated to follow, leaving behind something as inherent to the Dark Sun universe feels strange.

One worrying thing, though, is that there’s no editor listed in the credits. The reason I find that worrying is because this wouldn’t be the first novel published by Wizards of the Coast that leaves the printers without any editing. “City Under the Sand” suffered from that oversight, which I consider unforgivable.

Everything else is absolutely fantastic, though, and if that were indeed the case and the editing had been omitted, that only turns the author awesometer a notch higher, because this novel is excellent as it is.

One of my friends complains that D&D novels suffer from a big problem, either they are written by great writers who have no understanding of the D&D universe, or they are written by mediocre writers who do understand it. There’s no doubt Schwalb understand Athas and the Dark Sun universe better than any other writer before him. And that is saying quite a lot. Thank goodness he’s also vey talented as a writer and manages to convey that understanding also better than anyone else. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the perfect storm D&D novels need. Badly.

By now you would have guessed I truly love this book and will be one I read again. I would go as far as to say anyone who’s ever run a game of Dark Sun in any of its editions should give this one a serious go. This is the true Athas.

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May 282013
 

Nazi-OccultBy Paco Garcia Jaen

The Nazis were crazy. I mean… truly. Apart from being a bloodthirsty bunch of despicable bastards (if you challenge my statement, please stop reading now and leave my website. And don’t come back) they spent a huge length of time looking for myths and studying the occult in their quest for world subjugation.

Kenneth Hite has done a great deal of reading and research to find out about these Nazi escapades in their search for the true roots of their “purity”. And my goodness it has paid off!

Before I jump into the contents, let me start with the physical book. The Nazi Occult is a perfect bound soft cover and full colour 82 pages book by Osprey Publishing. The binding is really good and the soft cover is hard enough that it doesn’t get bent easily. Layout wise, though, this book is a bit of a mess.

Although the font size was big enough to make it very readable, the separation between paragraphs is a bit too tight, making the differentiation between them a bit hard to get. The side notes font is much smaller, though still easy enough to read. Only problem is that they’re too close to the main text, so the pages can look a bit too busy.

To this we have to add the images. Although they’re really interesting to look at and the few illustrations around the book are gorgeous, their distribution makes the book look a bit disjointed and lacking rhythm and consistency.

The book consists of 10 chapter, an introduction, a further reading appendix and a glossary.

The chapters are not in chronological order. They follow a different aspect of the Nazi pursuit of the occult. From the area that investigated runic lore, the history of the Ahnenerbe, the pursue of Vril and the exploration of Tibet in the search of the origins of the Arian race are some of the areas explored by Hite in this book.

And more, a lot more truly incredible stories of occult studies the Nazis. I could tell you more. I could tell you about the Man with the Green Gloves and his Yeti bodyguards, magically protected tanks fighting against djinni, the Holy Grail… The list goes and on.

Conclusion

There are two things about this book that bug me.

Firstly is that the layout is all over the place. It feels they had a truly tight page budget and weren’t unable to edit the book any further. Thus the information feels a bit crammed. And there is a lot of information.

Although the images and captions that come with them are very interesting and really help get a sense of the history, their positioning feels truly haphazard with sizes and captions all over the place.

There are a few full page illustrations throughout the book and they are gorgeous. Excellent visual representation of either fantastical scenes (like impossible meetings or creatures) help do what this book does best; inspire.

My second bug is with the difficulty to discern the veracity of the studies. The style of writing is very clear and, amazingly enough, Hite manages to convey a huge amount of information in a way that doesn’t become overwhelming. The whole thing is really fun to read and at no point becomes boring, so it certainly does the job.

However it is very difficult to see when something is coming out of a book or when something – if anything – is coming from a book or it has been fictionalised even further to make it more palatable to read. The style of writing is not formal enough for this to read like an academic text, but not fictional enough to read like a collection of short stories.

However don’t let the two things that bug me put you off this book. It is indeed worth getting it. The price is more than reasonable and if you can look past the layout, Nazi Occult will give you more than enough inspiration for stories and adventures in any WWII based game. Or maybe use it as the origins of a story that happens in modern day. Or maybe use them as the culmination of something that started a long time ago.

The only reason I don’t give this book 5 stars is for those two issues I’ve mentioned and that I hope will be sorted out in the future. With a bit more careful editing and a few more pages so the layout could truly shine, I’d probably give it more than 5 stars because is an absolutely fantastic source of inspiration.

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Jan 262013
 

book-on-pedestal[1]Possibly the ultimate in-character resource, written in a ‘future history’ style and with numerous extras, this is a treat for all Star Trek fans…

By Megan Robertson

Publisher’s blurb: “Assembled as a Special Exhibit on Memory Alpha, Star Trek Federation: The First 150 Years celebrates the 150th anniversary of the founding of the United Federation of Planets.

“This unprecedented illustrated volume chronicles the pivotal era leading up to Humankind’s First Contact with Vulcan in 2063, the Romulan War in 2156, the creation of the Federation in 2161, and the first 150 years of the intergalactic democracy up until the year 2311. Meticulously researched, this account covers a multitude of alien species, decisive battles, and the technology that made the Age of Exploration possible. It includes field sketches, illustrations, and reproductions of historic pieces of art from across the Galaxy, along with over fifty excerpts from key Federation documents and correspondence, Starfleet records, and intergalactic intelligence.

“Housed in a pedestal display complete with lights and an audio introduction by Admiral Hikaru Sulu, this deluxe edition also features five removable documents from the Federation Archives, including Zefram Cochrane’s early sketch of the warp-drive engine, a handwritten letter from young Jim Kirk, and the first-known diagram of a Trill symbiont.”

Megan’s review

Have you ever wished that the United Federation of Planets was real and that you, too, could bodly go where no one has ever gone before?

You’re not alone. Watching the TV series and the films is not enough… sometimes even the role-playing games don’t quite hit the mark. This book might help.

all-the-bits[1]Imagine, if you will, that you are rooting around in the library at Starfleet Academy, in the history section. In pride of place, on a fancy display stand, your eye is caught by a history of the Federation. You decide to pick it up and have a read…

That sounds like something I might say when running an RPG: this splendid resource makes it come to life, enabling you to enter that alternate reality that is Star Trek! For here is the history of the origins of the Federation written as history, just like any other popular history book you might have on your coffee table or your bookshelves.

Starting with Zefram Cochrane’s first warp drive test flight that led to First Contact with a passing Vulcan ship – and speaking of it as a familiar tale that you grew up on at that! – it reviews the sweep of history since then as Earth humans joined, and quickly assumed a leading role, in galactic civilisation. Much will be familiar to the enthusiast who enjoys everything that comes out about Star Trek, the real joy is in the interspersed images: copies of treaties, exerpts from Vulcan philosophy, from newspapers of the time, sketches of pivotal figures. It’s like a piece of future history fell back through a wormhole in time into your hands. Even the bibliography at the end is ‘in character’ with references to Memory Apha records and historical dissertations published in the 22nd century!

If that alone wasn’t enough, the rest of the package is pretty neat too. A blueprint of the USS Enterprise is maybe no surprise, most of us have assorted ‘technical manuals’ tucked away. But notes about warp drive scrawled by Cochrane himself on an envelope from the IRS? A note from a young Jim Kirk to his Mom? An anatomical diagram of a Trill, and a letter (in Trill script & translation) concerning doubts about revealing their symbiotic nature to the Federation in case they got upset about such a novel lifeform? These are things that those of us who would inhabit the alternate reality that is Star Trek can but dream of… and here they are, ready to be handled and passed around.

A particular gem is the author’s Addendum for the 75th Anniversary Edition… with some further events, more future history, enhancing the sense that this all happened and is continuing to happen, a nice touch!

Overall it is a beautifully-produced work, with a lot to offer the Star Trek enthusiast, something to treasure as you let your imagination boldly go…

For the role-player: Excellent background reading and fabulous props: there isn’t much more to be said. Whilst not particularly useful within the course of an actual game, it’s something keen players will want to study as they get inside their character’s head – perhaps a proud parent bought the book when they enrolled at the Academy!

Book Details:
Author: David A. Goodman
Publishers’ Reference:
ISBN: 978-1612184173
Hardback, 176 pages + extras and stand
Date: December 2012

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Dec 232012
 

image-195217-full[1]By Paco Garcia Jaen

It is safe to say that Fighting Fantasy cemented a literary genre that had barely been explored in the past. The series of books took some experimental writings that toyed with the idea of letting the reader determine the course and, ultimately, the outcome of the story.

For a lot people, the Fighting Fantasy series of books were the first foray into Fantasy and an entry point to develop a passion for reading, but probably  none felt that passion as strongly as Jonathan Green, who, after the first spark of enthusiasm for the books, managed to become one of the outmost authorities in the subject, and, probably, the best writer since the original Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson.

Now, with a few books under his belt, Jonathan is trying to procure money to write YOU ARE THE HERO, a book about the story of Fighting Fantasy.

Since paying for something that hasn’t been written yet is something that shouldn’t be done lightly, I thought I’d ask Jonathan a few – some hard – questions to find out what the plan is and why he’s doing all this.

Hope you enjoy!

27268a9432906ebfd49b523843740b5d_large[1]You are a very experienced writer with many titles on your portfolio. Why start this project? What do Fighting Fantasy books mean to you?

Fighting Fantasy gamebooks are the reason I’m writing today. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, when it was published in 1982, inspired me like no other book ever had and confirmed what I already knew – that I wanted to be a writer. I love the books with a passion and still love writing gamebooks today, despite having had fifteen novels published now.
I wrote a piece for SFX Magazine early in 2012 about the history of Fighting Fantasy and its legacy and realised that even after 7,000 words I had barely scratched the surface. That thought stayed with me and I continued interviewing the creators long after the piece was published until we come to this moment, when we’re halfway through the Kickstarter, with almost two thirds of the funds needed to produce the book raised.

Apart from your writing career, which is quite varied, what makes you the best person to write this book? Why should we trust you’ll come out with a great book?

Because I’ve had more than forty books published already, with another ten, or so, in the works. Because I’m passionate about gamebooks. Because I’ve written seven FF gamebooks myself and so have a unique insider’s view on the series. Because I’ve already interviewed a veritable host of people involved in the series or directly influenced by its impact. Because Steve Jackson himself once said to me, “You are the perfect person to write this book.” Will that do?

I think I’ll take that! :)
Even with your obvious passion of the subject, and considering how much they mean to a lot of people out there, how have you dealt with the pressure of going through this? There are lot of expectations!

The thing that’s been most stressful so far is managing the Kickstarter for a month. It just takes up so much time and nervous energy! I’m pleased that people have high expectations for YOU ARE THE HERO – so do I! I just want to get the chance to prove to people that I can meet them.

742b1a2bde2e6834709d3d63f9ff176f_large[1]What do you think will make the story of these books so interesting?

People are always fascinated by the creative process; just look at all the ‘Making of…’ documentaries on DVDs. There are also some great stories surrounding FF, such as why the books run to 400 sections, or how Ian Livingstone’s newest gamebook Blood of the Zombies almost never happened. And Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone are great characters and fantastic after dinner speakers. So imagine that transferred into book form.

Without giving anything away, have you found something you really didn’t expect and have shocked or amazed you?

Well I knew quite a lot of the ‘gossip’ already. But that’s not to say I won’t find something else out before the project’s done. ;-)

What is the process behind the writing of this book?

I’ve already researched a great deal of the history of the series, right down to how individual books came to be written. I’ve interviewed many people involved already, but the next stage is to carry out more interviews. I’ve also gained the permission of various artists to have their work featured in the book but once funding is achieved I’ll be able to commission some brand new art for the book. I’m even talking to professors of game play to bring that side of things into the book.

Once all that’s in place, I just have to sit down and write the thing!

071a0218258798f601e60149943327c6_large[1]How much effort and time have gone into finding the right people for interviews and research? How did you know who were the right people?

Many of them are the writers and artists who created the books in the first place. The others are people in the business like me, who I already knew were big fans of the books. Others have come out of the woodwork, as it were, since they discovered I was working on this project. But arranging interviews and collating questions has certainly taken a lot of time.

£15000 sounds like a lot of money. How are you going to spend it?

It is a lot, but that’s because it costs a lot to publish a half decent book. And YOU ARE THE HERO is going to be way better than half decent. For a start, Kickstarter and Amazon take their cut, then I’ve got to pay the artists, pay to have some of the rewards made, pay to have the book printed and shipped… It all adds up. And £15,000 is the minimum I need to do this. If we can raise more the book will be even more amazing, with even more content.

How did your relationship with Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson start? By the way they called you to the stage at Dragonmeet, they seem to value you very highly!

I believe Ian (or it might have been Steve) read my sample proposal for Spellbreaker, my first published FF gamebook, but I didn’t have any direct contact with them until around 2006, when Wizard Books showed an interest in finally publishing my fourth FF book Bloodbones. And when I say ‘direct’, it was via email at first.

I met them in person some time after that – Ian first and then Steve – but the first time the three of us met together was at the UK Games Expo in 2010. They’ve both said very pleasing things about my work and it was wonderful went Ian said he was going to call me up to talk about YOU ARE THE HERO at the end of the FF seminar at Dragonmeet.

You have now written some adventure books and Fighting Fantasy books as well, how has that experience been as a writer, compared with writing “normal” stories?

Everything’s written in the second person present tense for a start. Character development has to be handled differently (and yes, there can still be character development). You have to write more concisely. You can’t easily include flashbacks or scenes from another character’s point of view. But then the great thing about writing a gamebook, as opposed to a novel, is that you can explore every narrative path you like, whereas in a novel you have to stick with just one and follow it through to its ultimate conclusion.

What is next for you after this project?

I always seem to have at least five or six projects on the go at anyone time. I’ve got more short stories to write, hopefully a new novel, but I’d actually like to try another Kickstarter too – this time to allow me to create a brand new gamebook based on a very well-known story…

And with that, my thanks to Jonathan for answering my questions. I really hope it will have inspired to take a look at the Kickstarter project page and, with a bit of luck, also to back this project.

Of course, if you read this in the future, head to your local book store and get a copy. It makes terrific reading!

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Oct 082012
 

95895[1]By Thilo Graf

This being a review of a novel from Rite Publishing, the following contains minor SPOILERS.

Sarvesh has an interesting job in what could be considered middle management – he has a dedicated cadre of trouble-solvers under his command. He enjoys a good drink in his favorite tavern with his best friend, flirting with the females. Sometimes, he has to deal with tensions in his troupe and solve minor racial issues and oftentimes, he is annoyed by his often choleric and none-too-smart boss. He is successful and good-looking and enjoys a good drink.

Sarvesh is just like you and me. And Sarvesh cleans himself by igniting his skin and his horns, wreathing them in flames. He stomps about his city on hooves, has massive wings and is essentially as demonic as one could imagine. he’s also the commander of the Twilight Guardians, a cadre of special enforcers that seek to keep the goblin, oroq and minotaur denizens of his home safe from incursions when not coordinating raids on dwarven ale-supplies. For Sarvesh lives in the legendary Twilight Dungeon: His best friend is a minotaur with relationship-problems, the female one of two drak-trapmasters (think kobolds) has a hopeless crush on him, there is a rather severe chance for a relationship with the sinuous medusa-wench and when he’s not being yelled at by his boss, babysitting the local (none-too-bright) ettin and finding things for the one clever goblin of the dungeon to do provide for a lot of tasks.

And then there is the constant resetting of traps, striking back of dwarven invasions and of course, the incursions of the most dangerous of all invaders to repel: Adventurers have traditionally often killed the de facto leader of the dungeon and are justly feared by the hodgepodge community of humanoids that live, love and yes, even cry. And especially the “demonic” protagonist Sarvesh is a compelling and somewhat mysterious character that comes off as a great catalyst to experience the world of the Twilight Dungeon.

Unfortunately, though, the narrative has two strands and while the denizens of the dungeons are depicted as sympathetic people (I especially like the pseudopod-studded, eyestalk-owning creature…), the adventurers (i.e. antagonists) are unfortunately rather bland.

MINOR SPOILERS.

We meet the adventurers while they are gleefully slaying a whole village of aforementioned draks, even slaying their unborn. Of course, these Draks were innocent farmers, leaving no doubt of the nefarious hypocrisy of the cavalier/leader/fanatic of the group. There’s also a gender-divide in the adventuring-group – the two females, the rough-and-tumble sorceress and the elven mystic are of course, from almost the first chapter they’re featured in against the heinous fanaticism shown by “Lord” Strom Lightbringer – if you need a characteristic, think the utmost LN-holier-than-thou prickishness of a fallen paladin imaginable and there you are. The other males of the group are a thief called Yuri who contributes exactly nothing to the storyline, while the same can be said of the squire, who is essentially regarded as a meat-shield. It should come as no surprise that the elven mystic and the sorceress begin a relationship that is by far the thing about the group that is best developed. While said relationship offers for a ready means of identification, in the end, it overshadows the characters involved , somewhat neglecting their individual characters – especially the sorceress Tasha remains rather pale.

MAJOR SPOILER:

There’s another storyline in the Twilight Dungeon: Unbeknown to Sarvesh, a hidden threat looms and has even infiltrated his elite cadre! While this story is nice and keep the cadre of characters busy, it’s overshadowed by the ingenious nature of especially Bargle (the pseudopod-thing), Suri (the medusa) and Sarvesh.

——————————————————————-

Conclusion:

“Wings of Twilight” has been a dual reading experience for me – on the one hand, the chapters in the dungeon per se are a true joy to read and do a great job in making the humanoid community interesting, exciting and cool. On the other hand, the antagonists remain cardboard cutouts and mostly despicable – especially in a world where magic is essentially color-coded by alignment, the fanaticism of the main antagonist cannot be justified by any means, his cohorts remaining either unsympathetic, underdeveloped cretins or inconsequential in the case of the two ladies. While the lesbian relationship is probably geared towards making them more exciting for a male (or BGLT) audience, at least for me, they didn’t do the trick, instead coming off as inconsequential: I can’t, for the love of my life, fathom a good reason why they would stick with this insufferable prick. This might have been the intention of the author, though: After all, the dungeon’s society is harsh and in order to depict e.g. the callous regard for goblin-life as something to identify with, one would need a stark contrast. Devoting about half of the chapters to this storyline, though, rather hurts the book due to the fact that Hans Cumming’s biggest strength as an author, in my opinion is his ability to depict this strange society and make it relatable and even funny at times: The dungeon’s section is suffused with a humor that reminds one in the best cases of the Dresden Files prior to the series’ latest two debacles. The scarce battles on the other hand did not excite me that much.

During my lecture, I found myself wishing more and more that Hans Cummings would have resisted the temptation of adding this antagonistic storyline – a short introduction, perhaps 2 chapters and then go for their delve, leaving more room to develop the intriguing dungeon and its inhabitants or even the world and its enigmatic cataclysm and cosmology. Were I to rate this book on the merits of the dungeon alone, I’d settle for a final verdict of 4.5 or even 5 stars, but the dilution of the original concept with the second storyline, especially due to not featuring a satisfying payoff for the antagonists: The growth even the females go through is marginal at best, especially when compared to the trials and tribulations of Sarveth and his clique.It should be noted that the book features some nice b/w-maps of the land and the dungeon. In the end, my final verdict will reflect the cool society in the dungeon that does not devolve into a standard noble/bloodthirsty savage dichotomy more than the (in my opinion) antagonists that can be neglected for a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Wings of Twilight is available from:

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