Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Parched Sea

Yesterday, I enjoyed an unexpectedly long lunch period so was able to complete Troy Denning's The Parched Sea a full day ahead of schedule. This is the first book in "The Harper's" series, part of the Forgotten Realms milieu in the Dungeons and Dragons universe. A note about novels that are game tie-ins: I never expect them to be outstanding literature but I do expect them to be nice diverting entertainment, whisking me off to fantastical worlds and allowing me to excape my own reality. They usually fullfill that task although there are, of course, some exceptions. The Forgotten Realms setting has been better than most for me, especially the works of RA Salvatore although he occassionally misfires as well. The "Harpers" for those that don't know, are a semi-secret group of people devoted to good; i.e. helping people and causes that are in the best interest of others. The Harpers series is an open-ended subset of the greater Forgotten Realms setting, with each book of the 16 in the series being a stand alone novel and written by various authors.

The Parched Sea is among the better Forgotten realms novels I've read. I was in a mood to read some relatively straight-forward fantasy, looking for old fashioned adventure and intrigue with powerful magic inserted here and there. This one fit the bill splendidly. The setting is the unforgiving desert of Anauroch on the planet of Faerun (well known to Forgotten Realms fans) The main protagonist is Ruha, a Bedine "witch" outcast that has been married off to another tribe as a way to build an alliance. Lander is the Harper of this novel and has been sent to the desert to thwart the Zhentarim plans to enslave the indigenous peoples of the region. Together they face numerous challenges and attempt to overcome the difficulties of the situation.
I always enjoy novels where ordinary people do extraordinary things even though that sometimes leads to formula writing. Here both main characters have to dig deep and Ruha, especially, is able to call on some awesome magic. But here's what makes this book better than most basic fantasy, especially game tie-ins: the magic can be awesome but it has to be used in unusual and unexpected ways. Tactics and strategy win the battle, not just superior firepower. Mr Denning is an experienced author, and knows the Realms well, as evidenced by his ability to deftly describe the overall setting for the uninitiated reader. I'm often skeptical of authors who began their careers as game designers, knowing they have plenty of creativity but worried that they are only hack writers, churning out plots without regard to characterization, etc. But Mr Denning transcends that typecasting and really succeeds with this story. The characters were multi-dimensional, the story was intriguing, the plot was paced well, and overall it was a very enjoyable read. I'm looking forward to reading more of The Harper's series soon, even though different authors/characters may lead to hits and misses.

Because of that long lunch break yesterday I was also able to begin the next collection of short stories. Louis L'Amour is famous for his western novels but he also wrote a fair number of short stories, bundled together in several different collections. The Strong Shall Live is the second of his western short story collections to be published and I was actually able to finish the first two entries yesterday. "The Strong Shall Live" is also the name of the first story in the collection and is a fairly typical L'Amour story about survival. The main character is forced to survive a trek across the empty West in search of water. The second entry, "One Night Stand" is quite a bit different. It concerns an actor who takes on the role of Wild Bill Hickock in order to stand down a punk gunfighter. This is a humerous story, not something Louis L'Amour is known for but nevertheless does well.

Next up: All the Rage a Repairman Jack novel by F. Paul Wilson.

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Top 10 Books in no particular order (Well Known Authors)

  • "The Stand" by Stephen King
  • "Kane and Able" by Jeffrey Archer
  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
  • "The Dark Elf Trilogy" by RA Salvatore
  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
  • "Mortalis" by RA Salvatore
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
  • "The Repairman Jack" series by F. Paul Wilson

Top Books/ Series in no particular order (Lesser Known Authors)

  • "The Sculpter" by Gregory Funaro
  • "Power Down" by Ben Coes
  • "Revolution at Sea Saga" by James L. Nelson
  • "Black Rain" by Graham Brown
  • "Top Producer" by Norb Vonnegut
  • "Prairie" by Anna Lee Waldo
  • "The Wild Blue" by W. Boyne & S Thompson
  • "Unsolicited" series by Julie Kaewert
  • "Freedom" by William Safire