Friday, May 08, 2009

The Crimson Talisman

Last night I finished Adrian Cole's The Crimson Talisman, the first book of the War-Torn series set in Eberron. I'm not exactly sure how this is a series, since I've already started the second book, and it's an all new plotline set in an all new location, with all new characters. Maybe there'll be ties, but I kinda doubt it. I'm also not sure why it's called The War-Torn, because the recent Last War (an integral part of th Eberron setting is that it's set immediately following a Great War; not unlike a fantasy version of our own World War 1 in some ways) seems to have had little effect on the plot, or any of the characters save one or two where it gets mentioned in a minor way.

In general, I am highly skeptical of gaming fiction. I've read some that wasn't bad; some was even good enough that I bought used paperback copies for a few bucks and still have them. But those are the exceptions; the original Weis/Hickman Dragonlance novels, the original Salvatore Driz'zt novels. Not great reading, but at least marginally entertaining. Even so, those tend to be among the best that gaming fiction offers; stuff that's comparable with mediocre regular fantasy fiction. Sigh.

This book, sadly, doesn't change that maxim any. It's fantasy by the numbers. You've got all the plot points you'd expect, you've got all the characters you'd think you'd have, and it does a good job of showcasing the setting (arguably, it's main purpose.) As a novel, though, it's sadly lacking. Most notably, the characters never really seem to come alive. Their motivations seem forced, unwieldy and unbelievable. They're not sketched out in such a way that I find them believable, with the exception of one or two minor supporting guys. The book is certainly not a page-turner, largely because they have no charm, no chemistry, and no life. At the end of the day, you simply don't really care what happens to them. This is in pretty stark contrast to, say, Scent of Shadows that I just read, where even though I started the book skeptically, I found after a while that I simply couldn't put it down until I was done.

Other than that, the plot is cliched, yet serviceable. The writing style was kinda stilted and stiff, and several times I caught myself being pulled out of the narrative and really noticing it, and commenting to myself mentally, "what a badly written line of dialogue" for example. Rarely did it sound naturalistic, and real.

The book also failed to generate very much tension. Part of that may well be that I really didn't care what happened to any of the characters, but part of that was that these supposedly horrible entities; vampires, demons, Cthulhoid jungles, etc. never really had any bite. They just didn't really feel like threats.

In any case, I'm going to continue the series. For one thing, all four books have different authors and different characters, so for all intents and purposes, they're four only marginally related novels. But for this one, I'm left with the somewhat unfortunate conclusion that the cover art is the best thing about the novel.

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