Monday, June 01, 2009

In the Claws of the Tiger

James Wyatt's Eberron novel, In the Claws of the Tiger, is another surprising jewel in the War-Torn series. In case you've missed it so far, this "series" features a completely different author for each volume, completely different characters, and no ties other than that they're all part of the Eberron campaign setting. I'm not quite sure why they get binned as a "series", other than that they have the same layout and cover artist. Even the title isn't necessarily descriptive; the first volume didn't feature characters who were unduly affected by the war, or anything. Which is odd, because considering the scope and timing of the war, you'd think an author would be hard-pressed to not have his character impacted by the war.

Anyway, all that's neither here nor there; James Wyatt's novel is, as I said, actually pretty good. It's a fairly breezy "Indiana Jones" esque foray into a set of ruins buried in the desert of the southern continent "of adventure", Xen'drik. It features travel across the face of the setting, intrigue, betrayal, a Belloq-like character who exists to be the anti-protagonist who thwarts him repeatedly. There's romance, danger, death, undead, demons, and more. Fun plot, well-developed characters, reasonably witty banter and dialogue, fun settings... it's got everything you could want from a light-hearted pulp-inspired adventure story, and ranks up there among the better D&D specific novels I've read. I do quibble a tiny bit with the game mechanics "showing through" the text on occasion, but it's not nearly as bad as I've seen in some other D&D fiction. In fact, to some readers, that may even be a positive. To me, however, the fact that they needed to find a substitute for the missing "cleric" smacked of "we need the typical well-balanced party structure, otherwise game balance will be affected" rather than something that I could accept in the prose of the novel. I prefer to forget that I'm reading a novel based on a game, and just think that I'm reading a novel. Period. The description of magical healing and damage reduction also reminded me forcibly that I was reading a D&D novel, not just a novel, when it could have been written in such a way that it was more subtle.

But, that's a fairly minor quibble, really. I thought the book was reasonably fun, fast-moving and easy to read, and a great example of what a prototypical Eberron campaign could be like with a good GM who gets the vibe of the setting and is able to see beyond the typical D&D paradigm. I highly recommend it to someone who's looking for D&D specific fiction to read, and I don't mind recommending it to any fan of fantasy literature, regardless of association with the game or the setting, although in that case my recommendation is a little bit more guarded.

Another fairly minor quibble, that this book shares with The Orb of Xoriat; I have no idea what the cover art is meant to portray. The main characters do indeed come across tiger-men in Xen'drik. However, that's in a desert ruin that should look more like the archeological dig site in Egypt where Indy finds the Ark of the Covenant, not in the jungle. I'm also not sure who the characters are: the tiger-lady is never described like that (although that's an artistic liberty I'm OK with, since she looks cool) and the main characters are also not all recognizable based on in-novel descriptions. There's also no scene in which the tiger-lady queen and her soldiers ambush the main characters in the wild.

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