I've been remiss and missed some of my posts, but I've caught up to the folks over at Tor.com and I thought I'd share my thought.
Chapters 13 & 14
Chapter Thirteen seems heavy on the “we rolled this section on the random encounters chart” gamesplaysposition. I remember reading something (an interview or something like that) about the scene with Tas and Flint getting drunk on the log being directly lifted from them playtesting the modules. If I weren’t so lazy, I’d link. We’re also sort of reaching the “Cover All” of Fantasy Trope Bingo here: the mysterious dead swamp. I’ll leave aside my own problems with the ignorance of our “well-traveled adventurers” for the sake of story telling for now, but now that I’m a cynical fortysomething and not a bright eyed middle schooler it’s getting harder to do.
The thing this section is making me realize though is how much of a first book this is and reminds me, structurally and tonally, a lot of Star Wars (Episode IV). It’s setting pieces and doing the hero’s journey thing but to a group as opposed to a single person. It’s hitting the tropes perfectly. There’s a character for everyone to latch on to from every group of people, so it makes sense that it was so popular with my age set.
Chapters 15 & 16
Finally, a freaking dragon. Took us long enough. I always have problems with dragons as the big bads but think this is one of the ways the D&D tie in really works in their favor. To most of us, when we hear dragon we think of fire breathing lizards, so the first dragon we meet can not only cast spells but spit some kind of acid as well. Because 100 foot long flying lizards aren't terrifying enough?
As I remember it, the Riverwind scene was pretty terrifying the first time through and it holds up really well. It's horrifying but tastefully done, not gratuitous but graphic enough for us to feel the horror of what happened. You can feels the uncertainty heroes minds as to what to do next. It's really some of the strongest of writing so far in the book.
Strangely enough, the writing is starting to feel like it's coming into it's own and it's starting to work as a story. There's a part that makes it almost feel like a cheap out with how easy this problem is solved, but in the context of the story, it actually works...a lot. It would be easy to complain that the Companions forget about Goldmoon and the staff but a few things are in play: healing isn't a "thing" in this D&D world. There are no clerics and magic items don't have healing powers, so for the most part, our heroes wouldn't even think of that in the moment. A moment when they are still feeling the deep fear and terror of dragonfear. It's understandable that they wouldn't be thinking about that at that moment.
It finally feels like we're getting somewhere and Xak Tsaroth is one of the great fantasy cities!
Chapter 17 & 18
The strength of these books are the actions scenes. While they are occasionally disorganized and almost nonsensical due to the authors' strict adherence to game to text translation, they are still really well done. Not over the top or heavy handed, they work really well. The pages turned fast. I talk about the action scenes because chapter 18 has maybe my favorite action scene in fantasy ever: the fight in the pots. It's just brilliant. Confusing, chaotic, fighting in a tight place. The pacing is brilliant and it reminded me in an instant of the elevator scene from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The writing is tight and on point throughout and it only ramps up the danger the Companions are in.
I've tried (to varying degrees of success I hope) to replicate many times. In one of my trunk novels I have an entire chapter that is called "Up The Scaffold" that is one character's fight up a scaffolding the side of a building. I've done it in the contemporary story I just finished. It's hard to do and do well.
The escape down the wrecked tube is harrowing and involves more of the slime covered walls of the city, which is a great detail that isn't actually grating despite it's repetitiveness. Actually, a lot of the details about Xak Tsaroth are great. The city is a nightmare, having fallen off a cliff into a cavern in the earth. It such a hard thing to visualize for me but it all works. Except when they get to the bottom of the pipe, which I will talk about next time.