Temple of the Yellow Skulls
Fantasy novels based on D&D are extremely common. There are a lot of them, but I think it’s fair to say not many of them are that good. They make good reading for teenagers into RPGs, but it is rare to find one that will captivate the imagination of people who’re not into RPGs. Is this novel the same? Well, let’s take a look at the plot first.
After defeating the green dragon Vestapalk, Shara, Uldane and Albanon, human, Halfling and Eladrin, remain together as a groups of adventurers and ponder about their next move in their adventuring careers. Before they have a chance to decide, Kri, a strong and powerful priest of Ioun makes an appearance and drags them into a quest to find a cure for the Voidharrow. The Voidharrow is a horrific disease created by Tharizdun, the evil god who sparked the never ending Abyss and who still plots the destruction of the known universes from his prison.
With Hakken Raid as their nemesis, our adventurers go from peril to peril in a succession of adventures full of danger at every corner.
So yes; it is a pretty generic plot.
However, there is a great deal more to this plot than meets the eye, and the eye does meet a lot in this book.
First of all, the plot is epic. Truly and genuinely epic. Don Bassingthwaite manages to convey a sense of scale and dread masterfully. With powerful dragons becoming even more powerful, powers invested in people that turns them from mere beings to something beyond, gods involved and having a tangible effect on the environments… The world is huge, the plot is huge, the scope is huge and the author uses it to it’s fullest advantage.
Although with a limited number of locations described in this book, and most of them fairly near to each other, the sense of scale of the region is implied very well, so you always know where you are, but you never feel you’re too close to anything either. Measuring distance by the number of days it take to reach them rather than the distance itself scales the sense of despair and isolation present at some points of the book increases the tension and makes you wish you had dark-vision to continue reading all night long.
The characters, both protagonists and antagonists are very well portrayed. They are a big too generic, though. Specially the Uldane, the Halfling suffers from the typical clichéd view of Halflings being little else than adventuring children. I was in fact very disappointed that he felt so close to Taz, from the Chronicles of the Dragonlance series. Even when the events some events that take place during the novel change the personalities and views of the other characters, Uldane remains unchanged, as if he was beyond the effects of growing up or understanding the bigger picture.
The rest of the characters are more mature in their personalities. They have a much more intense focus on their personal quests, but there is also room for them to grow into each other, adapt to the consequences of what they see, etc. In short, they’re credible as characters. Having said that, if you’re a D&D player, they’ll also feel very archetypal.
This doesn’t worry me too much, though. With another two books to expand on the characters and grow the adventure to the desired level, there is plenty of chances for the character to evolve and develop in depth. Also, despite their generic nature, or maybe because of it, it is very easy to grow fond of the characters and feel a connection with them.
The writing is actually very good! And yes, I was surprised. I have never read anything by Bassingthwaite before, so maybe I shouldn’t have expected anything, but considering how many bad novels are out there, I wanted to have low expectations so I wouldn’t be disappointed. I wasn’t.
The narrative is very fluid, with very few points in the book where I had to read twice to make sure I had understood what I had just read. The locations are well described enough that you get a sense of them, but leaving enough to your imagination so you can also have a say and make the location yours. The fights and combats are very well described, as well as the spells. The metaphors used are spot on to help you visualise what you’re reading… Very well crafted.
The thing I liked the most about this novel, though, is how close to D&D gaming this is, without being overwhelming.
Let’s put it this way; if you’ve never played D&D, this novel will make sense and you won’t be left asking too many questions. Everything is explained to the level it needs to. If you’re a D&D player, on the other hand, you’ll see lots of things happening that do happen in the game. Saving throws, critical hits, levelling up, spell effect, aura effects… it’s all there. I would go as far as saying that if you are a gamer and your fellow players won’t be reading this book, you could make an adventure out of it easily.
This book is worth getting. Although I must warn you that if you get this one, you’ll want to obtain the forthcoming titles to know how the saga ends. And that is a good thing!
4 stars for this enjoyable and compelling novel!