First of all, forget the cover. Yes, at a pinch, it could be illustrating the book inside, but the further I read, the less I liked it. I guess that as figures with hoods are now de rigeur for fantasy book covers, the publishers decided that they had to join in.
According to Buchanan’s website, Glen Cook had nice things to say about this book. I think Glen is on the mark with his views. Overall, this is a good read, pacy and rather fun (despite the dark tone of the events that happen within the book). There have been books just recently that I felt I had to finish, given that I had either bought them or had a limited amount of time to read them before they had to go back to the library. This one I finished in short order because I found myself making time to pick it up and get on with it. It’s 388 pages but such is the pace of the writing that this slips by in no time at all.
The setting that Buchanan has created is at the same time original and derivative – a huge inland sea around which the sinister and all-conquering Empire of Mann is filling in the map with blood and boots. He’s a tad unoriginal on the naming (Las Alamos, Skara Brae, Minos, Lagos, Sargassi Sea, Mercia) but he doesn’t play around with them the way that Paul Hoffman did in the Left Hand of God (that just annoyed me after a while).
Buchanan is also splendidly inventive (with the caveat that you may have seen elements of his inventions before in many places). That having been said, he does a mash-up very well and puts his own spin on things. We have Samurai Jedi (no, really, it works – master and apprentice with kick-ass sword skills and a mystical philosophy of meditation), an evil empire that appears to be a cross between Rome and the Persia of Xerxes (300’s version), airships that almost cry out for Robert de Niro’s captaincy.
The atmosphere of the book shifts with its tone and setting; there is an almost Zen-like calm to scenes in a monastery, an espionage undercover plot strand uses the edgy and almost paranoid technique of describing the mundane as if everything holds a significance that will become apparent later. Buchanan does not linger overlong with any one particular character and indeed, there are even character shifts within chapters, which keeps the reader’s interest. Buchanan also manages to pull the rug out from under the reader’s feet on a couple of occasions, although I won’t say any more about it.
This being a modern fantasy, there is of course the question of religion and Buchanan delivers in spades. The Empire’s savage cults may turn stomachs (and they do motivate the main plot strand) but they are well created and explained logically, not just thrown in for shock value). The competing faiths battle for page space against the cult of Mann but they do manage to get their time in the sun. There are more than a few 'Grasshopper' moments that reinforce the oriental origins of the Samurai Jedi mentioned above.
This is Book One of what will probably be a trilogy (it kind of goes with the territory when it comes to fantasy) and Stands a Shadow is already out (I'll be reading that soon). A third book is in the works.
Benbo, 3rd level Fighter/4th level Thief - he who dares.
Galzor, 4th level cleric - mysteriously disappeared along with the Third and his coffin.
Zanurax, 3rd level thief (recovering from being partly eaten by a lion and has now gone to join Merlin)
Olaf, 4th level dwarven fighter, now returning to his clan halls
Merlin, 3rd level thief (called away on the business of the Thieves' Guild)
Adthar, 4th level fighter - currently both an Ettin and a statue
Elador, nth level magic-user - called away on special assignments but will act as mentor and adviser to the team
Galadeus, 2nd level ranger - drowned and then eaten by a shark.....aaaaaand he's BACK! aaaaaaaaand he's dead again.
What I'm DMing for 6 new junior players
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That's what Old School means to me
"These rules are flexible and open to interpretation - designed not to cover all conceivable situations, but to allow good Referees and Players the freedom to create and play games of their own design."
from the Lulu download page for The White Box S&W from BHP
"This game is unlike chess in that the rules are not cut and dried. In many places, they are guidelines and suggested methods only. This is part of the attraction of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons"
Over halfway to 90, I started playing AD&D when the Police were a cool band and Punk was wild. I am a father to a ten-year-old Junior Grognard and have now managed to establish a five-strong gaming group made up of him and four of his friends, ages ranging from 10 to 11. Solidly Old-School.
High fives and natural 20s to you all!