Thursday, January 12, 2012

Recent history

I finished Bill Slaviscek's The Mark of Nerath last night, after a crazy evening of running around town with all the kids.  As I predicted, the "POL" setting novels got off to a bit of a rocky start.  This novel really is not very good.  It's greatest failing is that Slaviscek, as a gamer, couldn't find a voice that didn't sound like a nerdy gamer describing his last campaign.  From off-hand references to D&D mechanics and esoterica littered throughout the book, to extremely cheesy dialogue, unlikely and forgettable characters, a rather dubious plot, and a general lack of tension or excitement, despite Slaviscek's attempt to throw disposible combat at the characters right and left, the book just didn't deliver a great experience.

Part of the problem no doubt is the cast of characters.  For a novel that clocks in at just under 300 pages, a 7-8 group "adventuring party" who is supposed to be made up of interesting characters with their own backstories and personality is a tall order.  To be honest, Slaviscek makes very little attempt at it, and just barrels along with the plot.  The most interesting aspects of it, however, are the parts that are lead-ins to the upcoming Abyssal Plague trilogy (also the main reason that I'm reading it)--the rather limp Luke Skywalker esque character of Falon, or the wooden performances of characters like Shara or Uldane (I realize I'm just dropping names that you won't recognize--but the point is, at the end of the novel, I'm not entirely sure that the names meant much to me either) they were mostly just completely forgettable.

That said, the novel wasn't completely terrible.  I've read worse.  The Crimson Talisman was worse.  Wizard's First Rule was worse.  And heck, it was mercifully kinda short, too.  And it had a pretty cool WAR cover.  I'm not entirely sure if that was the best part of the novel or not, but it certainly helped.  And unlike the covers in the War-Torn series that I read earlier, I actually recognized the scene in the cover art as a scene from the book.

One curious thing that the POL setting, as presented by this book, is that it refers to stuff that happens in not terribly distant history.  Now, I've only been poking around with history in DARK•HERITAGE, and very little of it has been recent with the exception of the Pirate's War in which Porto Liure won independence for itself.  I've got my Baal Hamazi, which is rather transparently my version of POL's Bael Turath--but that's all happened a hundred years ago or more, with the exception of recent events.  It occurs to me that I can make a much richer environment, one fraught with potential intrigue, if I have a few recently concluded episodes of skullduggery and intrigue with fallout still ready to happen.  Some frail dynastic events that are recently concluded, some recent revolts, riots, religious pogroms, or whatever, all make for a more rich environment.

And looking at real history, dramatic stuff often happens much faster than fantasy would have it, which stretches things out to unreasonable lengths.  Think about it--the U.S. as a country has only been around for a little over 200 years (you can vary that amount by a bit depending on whether you start with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the actual conclusion of the Revolutionary War in 1783, the Ratification of the Articles of Confederation in 1781, or if you want to be a real stickler, the victory over the British in the "Second War of Independence" in 1815.)  In a fantasy setting, 200 years doesn't feel like anything, when dynasties and empires and kingdoms tend to last for thousands of years (for some reason.)  Yet for us, the founding of America and the characters who walked that stage are almost as much legendary as they are historical in the popular consciousness.  There's no reason to overcompress your setting's time frame, but there's also no reason to overly stretch it out.

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