The test of time is probably the best test there is. If something looks, feels, reads or plays well 15 or 20 years after it was first published, you can tell you have something special there. Of course, waiting 15 or 20 years to find out if your work is any good is a bit too much to ask.
But just in case anyone asked, I am reviewing the second of a trilogy, The Seeker, a Dark Sun novel by Simon Hawke published by TSR in 1994.
The first novel of the trilogy, The Outcast, introduced us to Sorak, a one of a kind Elfling, the extremely unusual progeny of an elf and a halfling. In Athas, that’s as normal as mixing pigs and cows in our world. Sorak was raised by the order of the Villichi, a convent of gifted women sworn to protect the ways of the preserver. Sorak is an unusual being for more reasons than his genetic make up alone. He is also a Tribe of One. His personality was split into many when he was too young to remember, caused by a traumatic event no one knows. In his body, a number of personalities, each of them with different abilities and expertise, coexist creating an extremely powerful individual. Although not invincible, his command of melee and The Way make Sorak an extremely fearsome enemy.
In the first novel, Sorak departs from the Villichi convent in a quest to find about his past. After many years of living among the women in the convent, the urge to find out who his parents were make him take the decision of leaving home and start what could be an impossible search.
He won’t be doing this alone, though. Ryana, a young Villichi woman and childhood friend, will renounce her vows to the order and follow Sorak in his quest. Her psionic abilities and her impressive melee skills will be invaluable in the incredibly dangerous journey ahead of them.
Athas is indeed a dangerous place, and dangers they find aplenty. Not just from the extremelly dangerous creatures that populate the vast deserts, but also from greedy merchants and powerful defilers.
The cities of Athas are no safer, though, as our stars will find out soon enough. An encounter with the Veilled Alliance, the order of preserver wizards figting to bring back the exhuberance that Athas once knew, will play an important role in this novel, and indeed in Sorak and Ryana’s future.
This book is amazing for many reasons. For starters the premise is very original. Also not easy to handle. The multiple personalities of Sorak make him a rich and full of potential character and Simon Hawke handles it very well. The different personalities are disparate enough to reflect different sides of his personality, but similar enough to show they still belong to the same character. Also the way each personality uses his or her abilities is very interesting and gives plenty of ideas than can be used in Dark Sun real game.
The emotional complexities between Sorak and Ryana are also well handled, and the author doesn’t shy away from discussing sexuality and their attraction to each other. Don’t get me wrong, there are no graphic scenes or scenes of sexual nature, but the characters do discuss their feeling for each other more than once, and it’s done admirably well.
The thing that I liked the most about this book, though, is how well Hawke understand Athas and its creatures, but also politics both in and outside the cities.
The description of the landscape is very evocative and manages to convey the savage beauty of the desert fantastically. From the sandy planes to the horrid torture of the constant heat in the Tablelands, the sense of dread is ever-present throughout the book. The ecosystems and the relationship of the animals and the land is perfectly described to a degree that makes Athas a totally believable world. It is so good that I would recommend this book to any Dark Sun GM to understand better how the different creatures, deadly as they all are, work in some sort of way together to survive.
This book is the perfect Dark Sun companion for the GM and the players. Simple as that.
For starters is a lesson in originality insofar as the way the characters are portrayed and what sort of characters. Nothing of simplistic personalities and using them as an excuse to link adventures within the book. This are full, wholesome and very compelling characters with fears, emotions, aspirations, questions, ethics…
The story, and I realise I haven’t said much about it in this review, is fantastic. So good that giving anything away would probably spoil the whole thing for you. It is worth reading this book, and the previous and the next in the trilogy too!
But the most impressive of it all is the understanding that Simon Hawke has of Athas and its inhabitants. He has taken on the world like if it was his own and he does a wonderful work out of it. His prose, without being revolutionary, is rich in vocabulary and accessible enough without being too simplistic. A joy to read and being truly dirt-cheap in Amazon, you have no excuse not to get it.
I really can’t think of anything to reduce the number of stars below 5 for this book!