Black Wizards – Douglas Niles

As a lover of D&D, I try my best to set aside time to enjoy some of the many novels that have been published over the years. It’s no secret that I’m a rabid fan of the classic Dragonlance books. So, to say I was disappointed when I finally sat down to read the first novel set in the Forgotten Realms, is an understatement. The Realms have unlimited potential for great storytelling. But the first novel to bear the Forgotten Realms name, Darkwalker on Moonshae was a complete dud for me. In fact, I disliked it so much that I thought really hard about just abandoning the series altogether. But in the end, I decided to see it through. So, with firm resolve I hunkered down and began the second book in the Moonshae Trilogy, Black Wizards. I’ve now completed the novel and I’m ready to share my thoughts.

If you read my review for the first book. Then you know I had plenty of criticism for the novel. With this in mind, you’re probably wondering my overall thoughts are on the sequel. Well, let me start off by saying this; it’s better… but not by much.

This book takes place where the first novel left off. Prince Tristan is now a hero of the people after recovering a legendary sword and defeating the evil beast, Kazgaroth. However, the dark god Bhaal does take the foiling of his plans with good sport. The book begins with a coven of dark wizards plotting revenge against Tristan and the Kingdom of Corwell. The wizards are servants of Bhaal and they send a team of assassins to the castle to slay Tristan. However, during the assault, Tristan’s father is the one who is killed. Once the dust settles, the matter of who will claim the throne quickly becomes a point of contention. For many, Tristan is the obvious choice. However, the argument is made that the prince may not be mature enough. Ultimately, the issue is to be decided by the High King. Little does anyone know, but the High King has been corrupted by Bhaal’s wizards. Meanwhile, Robyn (Tristan’s love interest) is away studying the druidic arts when she encounters Trahern, one of the lesser villains from the first book. Trahern still possesses the Heart of Kazgaroth, a powerful evil relic sought after by the legions of Bhaal. After disposing of the heart, Robyn attracts the attention of the Bhaal’s forces. Now both Tristan and Robyn are people of interest to the black wizards. From here, the narrative switches between Tristan and Robyn. Tristan decides to journey to the High King’s castle to state his case for ascension to the Throne. Meanwhile, Robyn receives a vision that Tristan is in danger and leaves her grove in attempt to find him and protect him. As t he story progresses, the two groups slowly begin to unravel the secrets behind this group of evil magic-users and what their true intentions are.

I’ll come right out and declare that this book is a considerable improvement over the last one. For starters, the overall plot is much more interesting. Combine this with the fact the the novel has slightly better pacing and a number of interesting subplots, it all makes for a slightly better book. Slightly… Overall, many of the issues that plagued the first novel are still present – wooden characters, confusing dialogue, and overall disjointed storytelling. It’s really a shame because again, I feel there’s so much potential here that’s going to waste. I really feel like there’s a skeleton of an epic fantasy here. Except that instead of being covered with muscle and healthy tissue, it’s just been left to fester in the sun. Such a waste.

One of my big gripes about the last book was that it didn’t really feel like a Forgotten Realms novel. The story and the locale were so self contained. It’s worth mentioning that this time around there are a few references to classic Forgotten Realms locations in this book. But sadly they are only mentioned in passing. The end result is that this book still feels like a generic novel that’s been shoehorned into the Realms. A shame.

If you enjoyed Darkwalker on Moonshae then you will love this book. It’s better in nearly every way. That being said, to me it still falls pretty flat. It’s hard to recommend this book to fans of the Forgotten Realms because it doesn’t really represent much of what makes the Realms so special. It’s even harder to recommend this book to generic fantasy fans because, well, it just isn’t that good in comparison to so many other options.

Story: Fairly solid plot but it goes off the rails quickly. So much of the content in this book deviates from the main goal and ends up feeling like filler. Sure, fantasy novels are expected to go off on side treks and tangents, that’s part of what makes them special. The only difference is that those side treks usually end up contributing to the main story in some way. For me, that isn’t want happens here. The bulk of this book is just exhausting to read at times. There are a few good moments, sure. But they are few and far between.

Recommended: For hardcore fans of the Realms only. Not likely to appeal to casual readers.

 

Old Game Hermit

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