Thursday, June 21, 2012

Legacy of Wolves, by Marsheila Rockwell

Recently Katie at I Smell Sheep went to the Phoenix Comicon and met a number of authors and other industry people. I was thankful for the weekend where she was too busy to bother me with questions like, what's going on with the plot in Game of Thrones? Sadly, all vacations must come to an end and Katie told me that she had a book for me to read because it didn't have enough smut for her to be interested. After briefly considering all the terrible, terrible decisions that lead my life to this point, I sighed and started reading Legacy of Wolves by Marsheila Rockwell. 

Overall I actually liked this book and I'm going to do the best I can to explain that, but first I want to talk a little bit about Dungeons & Dragons, and more specifically the Eberron setting. As pretty much all of my readers know, Dungeons & Dragons is the tabletop RPG beloved by nerds for generations. Originally created by Gary Gygax in 1974 the franchise went through a number of different companies and a couple of rule changes until getting picked up by Wizards of the Coast, who created the 3.0 and 3.5 editions. Currently D&D is in its fourth edition, however due to fan backlash Wizards is looking towards creating a fifth edition and what will happen after that remains to be seen. 

However, the D&D rulebooks don't provide much by the way of setting. Sure there are pantheons of deities and the planes of existence, but much of the world creation is left up to each game's Dungeon Master. Eberron was created by Keith Baker and was the winning entry in a 2002 survey by Wizards for a different setting for D&D stories. I actually never learned that much about Eberron because none of my friends were ever particularly interested and Eberron is...well, it's different. As in, we have magic lightning-powered trains and halflings riding on dinosaurs different. So I was initially a little worried about reading this book because I knew next to nothing about the setting and was afraid I would quickly get lost and confused in the universe. And despite some initial disorientation, Rockwell's writing managed to get me comfortable with the universe very quickly. 

Rockwell's writing does an excellent job in explaining at least some aspects of the Eberron setting. In a universe as rich and complex as Eberron one book simply would not be enough to cover everything. However, I now have a better understanding of the powerful merchant houses whose influence and finances rival medium-sized nations, as well as the religious tension between followers of the Silver Flame and followers of the Sovereign Host. Thanks to her I came away from Legacy of Wolves with a much better understanding of the Eberron universe and an interest in learning more about it, whether through stories by other writers or through playing the Eberron setting. 

I was extremely thankful for the plot of Legacy of Wolves which did not follow a standard fantasy plot which I have become particularly tired of reading recently. (I.e. the heroes go on a quest to defeat some sort of evil. Original when Tolkien did it, kind of boring seventy years later.) Legacy of Wolves follows the investigations of Irulan Silverclaw, paladin Andri Aeyliros, dwarven inquisitive Greddark d'Kundark, and to a lesser extent the bard Zoden ir'Marktaros, into a series of grisly murders in the city of Aruldusk which are being blamed on the local shifter population. Shifters, descendants of lycanthrope and human parents, have never had an easy existence around Aruldusk, a city ruled by the church of the Silver Flame which has a long-standing vendetta against lycanthropes. Although many now know shifters are not evil like their lycanthrope kin, old prejudices remain and many shifters were killed in the church's Purge.

 Irulan, both a shifter and a follower of the Silver Flame, goes to the church's headquarters to beg an audience when her brother is imprisoned as a suspect in one of the murders. The Keeper of the Flame, the leader of the Silver Flame, is worried by Irulan's tale and sends paladin Andri Aeyliros with her to investigate the murders and prevent a repeat of the Purge. Meanwhile Zoden ir'Marktaros begs his cousin the queen for aid when his twin brother, Zodal, is murdered right in front of him. Zoden suspects that there is more to this chain of murders and that they had meant to kill him rather than Zodal. Although his cousin cannot officially provide support, she hires the dwarf inquisitive Greddar d'Kundark to investigate the murders and help keep Zoden alive. 

The only issue I had with the actual murder-mystery plot is that we get two or three leads on the murders in Aruldusk which turn out to be red herrings. Seriously I got to about the three-fourths mark in the book and I still had no idea who  the actual killer could be so I was getting a little frustrated. In mysteries I like to at least have an inkling before the big reveal. That complaint aside, I ended up really liking the story and the incredibly deep world in which it was set.

Story and setting aside I had a little trouble with the characters. Most of the main characters were either orphans or estranged from their parents which is so over-used with Dungeons & Dragons character that it's practically a cliche at this point. Did it make sense within the context of the plot? Yes, but I was internally kind of going, "Oh, come on, more orphans?" (That's more the complaint of a bitter DM who's seen too many bad character backstories, though.) The other issue I had with the characters was the romance between Irulan and Andri, and not because the romance existed at all! I know I give Katie a hard time but I'm not opposed to seeing characters enter and pursue relationships. It just felt rushed, in my opinion, because they had known each other for about a month in the book and it felt like an unrealistic time frame for that sort of relationship to develop. 

All my little itty-bitty issues aside, I actually really liked this book. For fans of D&D and the Eberron setting, or people who are curious about Eberron in general this is a really good book to pick up. And if you're interested in reading a mystery in a fantasy setting Legacy of Wolves is a great example. I definitely recommend all my readers go check it out. 

- Kalpar 

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