The Mark of Nerath
Illustrator: Wayne Reynolds
Summary of content:
Novel that partially takes place in the Shadowfell domain of Darani.
GonzoRon of the FoS
Well, having been alerted to the existence of this book by Azalin Rex (the forum member, not the lich-king), I had to pick it up. Yes, it does in fact involve a previously unknown darklord and Shadowfell domain. As such, it may be the closest thing to a Ravenloft novel that will produced by WotC for a while. No, I cannot in good conscience recommend it.
I'm about halfway through, and while the possibility exists that it will improve by the end, so far, it's pretty awful. The author is a game designer, not a novelist, and it shows, repeatedly. The game-speak is jarring and obvious: nearly every character is introduced as or referred to by their race/class combo, in case you couldn't figure out that the sneaky halfling was a rogue, or the armored guy with the sword was a fighter; monsters are recognized innately and called out by name. ("That was a death knight, the wizard thought...") During every battle scene, each maneuver is described so mechanically and atomically that I can practically deduce the initiative order, and I can't help but feel that if I knew 4e better, I'd be able to say exactly what power each swipe of a sword or swing of a hammer was.
OK, so forget that for the moment, and assume it's a stylistic choice to link the book to the game better. Even with the gameyness forgiven, the book seems to assume the reader has the attention span of a gnat. Characters are introduced, and then re-introduced 2 chapters later, as though you'd never met them before. "Albanon was a wizard-in-training apprenticed to the great mage Moorin of the Glowing Tower." You mean the same Moorin he called "Master" and said goodbye to 25 pages ago when Albanon left the Glowing Tower for a night on the town? ORLY? And I feel like I should take a drink every time I'm reminded that Erathis is the god of civilization. It happens in nearly every chapter involving Falon, a priest of Erathis (the god of civilization).
There's one character named Nu Alin, that is some sort of otherworldly creature. There's a clear stylistic choice made that when talking about Nu Alin, no pronouns are used. Nu Alin sees something near Nu Alin. Nu Alin gets closer and Nu Alin picks it up. I'm sure it's supposed to make Nu Alin seem alien or something. But it fails miserably, and Nu Alin's name becomes comic relief to me very quickly. Nu Alin, Nu Alin, Nu Alin. Nu Alin.
So far, precious little of the Shadowfell domain is seen anyway, since the plot involves a sort of darklord furlough program where he leaves his domain on a mission for Orcus, in order to win permanent freedom. So we only see Darani for a chapter or so at the beginning. Maybe more later, I hope.
I really, really, really regret that I can't give this book a better review. It's almost laughable at times; unless I'm missing the point, and they're going for a Pratchett/Adams vibe, and it's supposed to be laughable. But I doubt it. I leave you with two more actual quotes from the book. Judge for yourself:
"Lucky for you I spotted it [another character's "lucky coin"] on the path back there. I do have excellent perception you know."
"A half-finished keep occupied the spot where the outpost once stood. The builders never competed the keep, and from the looks of things they had abandoned the place some time ago. The unfinished keep was little more than a ruin, empty of lords or knights, servants or tenants. The place felt unfinished."
Verdict (unless somehow it improves 1000-fold in the last half): Avoid. 1/2 blood drop.
(pop quiz: was the keep finished or not? :) )
... For the record, I did eventually finish the book, and it did get marginally better toward the end, as the characters drew together into a single group, and put most of the redundant exposition aside. By the end, it "rose" to the level of a mediocre adventure story. Still can't recommend, and only a small fraction of the plot takes place in the Domain of Dread anyway, but for completists, I suppose it's kinda sorta Ravenloft.
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